Senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Robert Pappalardo, informed New Scientist of a planned mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Europa is the sixth largest moon in the solar system. Pappalardo said, “This is a big deal. We’re moving forward to the next phase, where you’re a real mission. It’s just thrilling.” The mission proposal involves designing and constructing an instrument filled spacecraft, which is approximately the size of a school bus. The spacecraft would be capable of withstanding the strong radiation belts of Jupiter, for a long enough period of time to perform around 45 orbits of Europa.

The previous studies of Europa have suggested that it may contain three times as much water as Earth and that its ocean reaches a depth of 62 miles. To put that into perceive, it is almost 10 times the deepest point on Earth.

A the present time, scientists believe that Europa may be affected by a phenomenon that is similar to plate tectonics and that the presence of geysers on the moon’s surface, could assist in harbouring life.

Europa also has a almost identical mass, and subsequently gravity, to the Earth’s moon. Scientist argue this would mean that pressures within the oceans of Europa would not be too extreme for some forms of biological life to develop.

Kevin Hand, a senior NASA scientist, said: “The way we framed the Europa mission science objectives is not to specifically look for life, but to understand habitability; the ingredients for life.”  Although the Europa Clipper may answer the question of whether life is possible on the Moon, the spacecraft will not touch down on the surface, so it will not be able to prove the existence of any life.

There are currently two missions that are planned for Jupiter’s Moon, Europa. The Europa Clipper is one of them. The European Space Agency is due to launch there own probe to visit three of Jupiter’s moons, seven years from now, in the year 2022.

[Image via toovia]