Next stop Europa?

Wo – how about a probe of Europa next? It has an ocean covered by a thick layer of ice. Phil Plait has the story:

He starts with a remastered image just released by JPL:


Click on it for even bigger detail.

So that would be a hell of an interesting thing to explore, right?

Europa is 3120 km (1930 miles) in diameter, a hair smaller than our own Moon. Unlike our Moon, which is rock through and through, Europa has a rocky core covered with water. And by water, I mean liquid water, an undersurface ocean covered with a kilometers-thick shell of ice. The water may be in a layer 100 km thick, and salty, making it a true ocean. In fact, it may have more liquid water than Earth does!

The cracks you see are where ice floes fit together; the brighter areas are nearly pure water ice, but the red/orange regions are cracks, possibly where briny water has been squeezed to the surface, and materials in it chemically affected by the intense radiation environment surrounding Jupiter (caused by its very strong magnetic field interacting with material blasted out by volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io).

Ok then go there! More exciting landing probes on things.

JPL made a video about it.

That video is very well-done, and as I watched it I couldn’t help but think it felt like a trailer or promotional video for a new mission in the works. I know a lot of planetary astronomers have wanted to send a dedicated mission to the moon to investigate it far more thoroughly…

… and then I found that, due to the mid-term elections, Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex) is now head of the House’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee. He’s long been an advocate for a Europa mission.

Really? Not for shutting NASA down because Starve the Beast? Good on him.

I’ve had my issues with Culberson about NASA, but, depending on how it’s done — extra funding for NASA so that no current or other future missions will get bled of funding, for starters — then an orbiter, lander, and sub-lander to Europa could very well be something I could get behind.

This is something I think NASA should be doing: Pushing the frontier, doing what only a national space agency can do. This would be a huge undertaking, and one that would fire up the public imagination like nothing before it since Apollo. I’d very much like to see that happen.

Sounds very cool to me. And think of all the kids in classrooms being told that if they work hard on their math they have a shot at working on the project.


  1. quixote says

    The really great thing about places with liquid water is the organic chemistry — and, who knows! — biochemistry we could discover there. Right now we have exactly one data point about the chemistry of life. Turning that into two points would be one of the biggest advances in science ever. (No, I’m not even slightly overstating the case.)

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    Yes, by all means – it’s clearly time for a Great Scientific Breakthrough! This calls for a Great Man!! Unless a Great Man steps in, there’s no hope at all. Quick, someone call up Dr. Matt Taylor – and have him bring his shirt!!

    “Help us, Dr. Taylor – you’re our only hope!”

    (Sorry, I’m not quite over that yet)

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    They must have a lot of different atheist factions on Europa – look at all those Deep Rifts!

  4. blbt5 says

    Yes, by all means send a probe to Europa, there’s a good possibility to find life. However, as Neil Tyson illustrated in his Cosmos series, one should keep in mind that life on Earth dates to about 3.5 billion years, and in all those billions of years the Earth has been spraying the Solar system with microbes by asteroids impacting the Earth. Most of the biomass of the Earth is in soil and rock microbes extending several miles below the Earth’s crust, microbes which can demonstrably survive in space and frozen, for millions of years. The Universe was 9 billion years old when the Earth formed and so itself may have been similarly colonized.

  5. brett says

    If we could just get an orbiter around Europa, it might be possible to find areas in the ice that are exceptionally thin, and thus amenable to landers with drills. Even without that, we’d learn a lot from a “Europa Clipper” style mission.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Sorry, I’m not quite over that yet

    Funny, all the rest of us were over it the minute he, y’know, sincerely apologised. The grownups moved on.

    The only fuckwits still bleating about it after that were MRAssholes going on about how it woz them FemiNazis wot made him did it, poor bloke.

    But your position of *still* going on about it weeks later… is noted.

  7. sigurd jorsalfar says

    Personally, I found the whole shirtstorm sooooo distracting that I forgot Jupiter even had moons.

  8. eddiejones says

    “Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex) is now head of the House’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee. He’s long been an advocate for a Europa mission.”

    .. waitaminnit.. a Texas Republican’t who’s in FAVOR of scientific inquiry?? Do his fellow know this??

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