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sagansense:

A Mission to Europa: NASA Zeroes in On What They’ll Search For

Most of what scientists know of Jupiter’s moon Europa they have gleaned from a dozen or so close flybys from NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1979 and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1990s. Even in these fleeting, paparazzi-like encounters, scientists have seen a fractured, ice-covered world with tantalizing signs of a liquid water ocean under its surface. Such an environment could potentially be a hospitable home for microbial life. But what if we got to land on Europa’s surface and conduct something along the lines of a more in-depth interview? What would scientists ask? A new study in the journal Astrobiology authored by a NASA-appointed science definition team lays out their consensus on the most important questions to address.

"If one day humans send a robotic lander to the surface of Europa, we need to know what to look for and what tools it should carry," said Robert Pappalardo, the study’s lead author, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "There is still a lot of preparation that is needed before we could land on Europa, but studies like these will help us focus on the technologies required to get us there, and on the data needed to help us scout out possible landing locations. Europa is the most likely place in our solar system beyond Earth to have life today, and a landed mission would be the best way to search for signs of life."

The paper was authored by scientists from a number of other NASA centers and universities, including the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Texas, Austin; and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The team found the most important questions clustered around composition: what makes up the reddish “freckles” and reddish cracks that stain the icy surface? What kind of chemistry is occurring there? Are there organic molecules, which are among the building blocks of life?

Additional priorities involved improving our images of Europa - getting a look around at features on a human scale to provide context for the compositional measurements. Also among the top priorities were questions related to geological activity and the presence of liquid water: how active is the surface? How much rumbling is there from the periodic gravitational squeezes from its planetary host, the giant planet Jupiter? What do these detections tell us about the characteristics of liquid water below the icy surface?

"Landing on the surface of Europa would be a key step in the astrobiological investigation of that world," said Chris McKay, a senior editor of the journal Astrobiology, who is based at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "This paper outlines the science that could be done on such a lander. The hope would be that surface materials, possibly near the linear crack features, include biomarkers carried up from the ocean."

via heythereuniverse

Titan and Europa Essay Contest

NASA is holding an essay contest about Saturn’s moon Titan & Jupiter’s moon Europa for students in the United States in grades 5-12. Thecontest deadline is February 28, 2013. The contest website is:http://icyworlds.jpl.nasa.gov/contest/. 


The topic of the Titan & Europa essay is either a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan or to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Both of these missions would study a world that is exciting for astrobiologists. Your assignment is to decide which of the proposed missions would be more interesting to you, and why. Be creative, be original, and ask good questions that you hope the mission would answer. 

The Titan mission would include a Titan orbiter and a Titan balloon. The Europa mission would include a Europa orbiter and a Europa lander. The orbiters, balloon, and lander would each have science instruments to study either Titan or Europa. In your essay, you can include information about what science instruments you would put on the orbiter and balloon or lander, if you wish, based on what you hope to find on Titan or Europa. 

Winning essays will be posted on a NASA website, and winners and their classes will be invited to participate in a videoconference or teleconference with NASA scientists.

Contest videos about Astrobiology, Titan, and Europa can be found at: 
http://icyworlds.jpl.nasa.gov/contest/videos/

Questions about the Titan & Europa essay contest can be sent to:
titaneuropa@jpl.nasa.gov

the-star-stuff:

There’s more water on Jupiter’s moon Europa than there is on Earth

Based on data acquired by NASA’s Galileo satellite, astronomers think the global oceans sloshing around beneath Europa’s icy exterior are likely 2—3 more voluminous than the oceans here on Earth. Not 2—3 times more proportionally, 2—3 times more in total volume.

Illustration by Kevin Hand (JPL/Caltech), Jack Cook (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), Howard Perlman (USGS); Spotted on NASA APOD

thenewenlightenmentage:

Weekend Feature: Robotic Search for Life on Jupiter’s ‘Ocean Moon’ Europa

At NASA’s Astrobiology Science Conference held in Atlanta last week, visionary space inventor Bill Stone announced that he intends to get an autonomous six-foot by ten inch robotic cylinder called Valkyrie ready to visit the icebound sea of Jupiter’s moon Europa, cut through the icy crust, explore the waters below, and collect samples in the search of life. in 2011, Stone announced that NASA awarded his venture, Stone Aerospace, a four-year, $4M funding to continue development of the Valkyrie project, to design and field-test an autonomous ice penetrating cryobot.

Continue reading “Weekend Feature: Robotic Search for Life on Jupiter’s ‘Ocean Moon’ Europa” »

I guess I missed this talk last week. That’s the problem with having concurrent sessions…

thenewenlightenmentage:

Robot Submarine on Jupiter Moon Europa is ‘Holy Grail’ Mission for Planetary Science

Sending a submarine to the bottom of the ocean on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is the most exciting potential mission in planetary science, according to one prominent researcher.

Europa’s seafloor may well be capable of supporting life as we know it today, said Cornell University’s Steve Squyres, lead scientist for NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover, which is currently roaming the Red Planet. So a Europa robotic submarine mission is at the top of his wish list, though it likely won’t happen anytime soon.

“This is fantastic stuff,” Squyres said Wednesday (March 21) at a conference called Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space in The Woodlands, Texas. “This is the holy grail of planetary exploration right here.”

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thenewenlightenmentage:

Jupiter Moon’s Ocean May Be Too Acidic for Life

The ocean underneath the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa might be too acidic to support life, due to compounds that may regularly migrate downward from its surface, researchers say.

Scientists believe that Europa, which is roughly the size of Earth’s moon, possesses an ocean perhaps 100 miles deep (160 kilometers). This ocean is overlain by an icy crust of unknown thickness, although some estimates are that it could be only a few miles thick.

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