NASA taking next step in Jupiter Europa mission

18 Jun 2015

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Artist concept of NASA's Europa mission spacecraft approaching its target for one of many flybys, via NASA/JPL-Caltech

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NASA’s highly-anticipated mission to Jupiter’s Europa moon is getting closer after the space agency’s full review of the land mass was completed.

The ‘formulation’ phase is now underway, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) managing the project. Hopefully JPL can pull it off to a more successful conclusion then its recent project in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, where it failed to make an impact.

Europa enjoys what astronomers believe to be an abundance of water – or at least, an abundance of mass that has water-like properties – and thus poses the greatest possibility of life outside of Earth.

Thus trips to Mars, although greatly romantic, have become slightly less appealing to many space nuts.

Galileo Galileo Figaro, Magnifico

It’s all thanks to Galileo, the mission rather than the genius. Before the dawn of this millennium, Galileo was the first mission to provide significant evidence that there was an ocean beneath Europa’s surface.

Despite the crazy cold temperature on Europa, liquid is suspected to exist in a heavily salinated form, meaning it freezes at far lower temperatures than water that we are used to.

Essentially this is exactly what The Waterboys suggested in The Whole of the Moon, with ‘wide oceans full of tears’. Not too many ‘flags, rags and ferryboats’, though.

Mission to Jupiter a well-snapped project

Every few months of the past year there have been newer, better images emerging of Europa’s surface, offering scientists ever more strands of information to help out their predictions.

For example, there was this incredibly high-res snap last month, which you can click on to see the full size.

Mission to Jupiter – Europa in high-res form

Image via NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

There has been mapping of the different regions, with some surprisingly Irish-named locations, with the Hubble Telescope getting in on the act and discovering bodies of water on other moons around Jupiter.

JPL has actually been looking into the “multiple-flyby mission concept” for a number of years now, with the wheels in motion to get this project on the road.

“Today we’re taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth,” said NASA’s John Grunsfeld, according to Phys.org.

“Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalising clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.”

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com