Washington, May 27:
The US space agency has selected nine science instruments for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The aim is to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbour conditions suitable for life.
Europa has tantalised scientists with its enigmatic icy surface and evidence of a vast ocean.
“We have gathered amazing data from 11 flybys of the Galileo spacecraft over a decade ago and recent Hubble observations, suggesting plumes of water shooting out from the moon,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate in Washington, DC.
The Europa mission would send a solar-powered spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around the gas giant Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of Europa over a three-year period.
In total, the mission would perform 45 flybys at altitudes ranging from 25 km to 2,700 km.
“The payload of selected science instruments includes cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface and determine its composition,” NASA said in a statement.
An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica.
The mission also will carry a magnetometer to measure strength and direction of the moon’s magnetic field, which will allow scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean.
A thermal instrument will scour Europa’s frozen surface in search of recent eruptions of warmer water, while additional instruments will search for evidence of water and tiny particles in the moon’s thin atmosphere.
The earlier NASA’s Galileo mission has yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness.
If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth.
With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet. (IANS)