MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — A potential NASA mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa may set out to try and answer the age-old question, “Are we alone in the universe?”
According to multiple reports, including ones from Space.com and National Geographic, NASA has been working toward the mission for years, and it may now be closer to reality. The White House allocated millions of dollars in its fiscal year 2016 budget request to formulate a mission to Europa.
National Geographic notes that scientists have long thought the sea on Europa is one of the best potential alien incubators in our solar system.
One of the biggest challenges the scientists face is how exactly to detect life on the world, whose frozen outer shell conceals its ocean.
According to reports the plan is for NASA to conduct a fly-by mission to Europa to observe its sub-surface ocean — among other things — and return data that could aid a potential visit to the moon’s surface.
National Geographic reports that astrobiologists, who study the potential for alien life, and planetary scientists gathered during a meeting earlier this week to discuss strategies for finding alien life on the moon.
“Europa is clearly such a prime target for astrobiology that having a workshop like this to try and figure out all the ways in which we could possibly sample its ocean … [is] critically important,” Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was at the meeting, told National Geographic.
“This is our chance” to investigate whether or not life exists, NASA science chief John Grunsfeld said at the meeting, according to Space.com.
According to Space.com, Europe is developing a similar mission, called the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer.
National Geographic notes that even if researchers discover life, the challenge might be recognizing it, as “Europan organisms could use different chemistry than we expect from Earthly creatures.”