NASA Announces Plans to Send Probe to Search for Alien Life On Europa
NASA has been predicting for some time that Jupiter's moon Europa contains alien life, but up to this point there were no official plans to send a probe to the icy moon. Now, NASA announced as part of State of NASA that they are accepting applications for projects to go to Europa.
NASA has postulated in the past that, although Europa is covered in ice, it is likely the best bet for finding alien life forms, because underneath that "icy shell" there is believed to be a liquid ocean. Based on several different data sets from satellites measuring everything from magnetic fields to the interior structure of the moon, NASA scientists are "confident" that this liquid ocean exists. If it does exist, it would be quite massive, up to three times the amount of water on Earth.
According to NASA the goals of the mission include:
-Characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper interior
-Characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange
-Determine global surface, compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability
-Understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity, identify and characterize candidate sites for future detailed exploration
-Understand Europa's space environment and interaction with the magnetosphere
Confirmation that Europa hosts liquid water would revolutionize the search for extraterrestrial life, not least because it lies outside the Goldilocks zone. The Goldilocks zone, named for the children's story, is a planet that's not too far from the sun and not too close; it's "just right." In other words, it's within the range of distances from the closest star that the temperature wouldn't be so cold that all liquid would freeze or so hot that all liquid would evaporate.
According to predominant theories in astrobiology, since Europa lies outside the Goldilocks zone, it shouldn't have liquid water. But NASA scientists hypothesize that Jupiter's strong tidal pull stretches and cracks the surface, allowing liquid water to flow down into the cracks. These cracks purportedly cause the appearance of brown "veins" on the surface in Cassini images of Europa.