Jupiter's Moon Europa Most Likely to Support Life

First Posted: Feb 18, 2013 07:41 AM EST

Jupiter's icy moon Europa, which is thought to have a surface ocean of salty water, is the most likely to support the survival of simple microorganisms.

"Europa is the most likely place in our solar system beyond Earth to possess life," Robert Pappalardo, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, was quoted as saying by AFP. "And it is the place we should be exploring now that we have a concept mission we think is the right one to get there for an affordable cost," he continued.

According to Pappalardo, due to the thin ice shelf and an ocean, Europa is more promising than Mars in terms of habitability.  

In order to explore Europa, JPL and the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland developed a new exploration project named Clipper with a total cost of $2 billion. The spacecraft would orbit around Jupiter and make a detailed survey of the icy surface of Europa. This mission has yet to be approved and could be rejected from future budgets.

Pappalardo states that the spacecraft could be launched in 2021 or 2022 and would take 3-6 years to reach Europa. NASA is not funding the Clipper mission, but they can participate in the ESA's 'Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer'.

The probe, called Clipper, will be designed to survey the surface of Europa. Using ice-penetrating radar and infrared sensors, Clipper will survey the surface of Jupiter's moon, Pappalardo was quoted as saying in the Independent.

Data from this mission will be used for future missions that will hunt for evidence of life on the moon, Pappalardo told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

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