NASA is planning to send a mission to one of Jupiter’s mysterious moons to see if it holds alien life.
Researchers believe that the icy moon of Europa may be the most likely spot to find life within our solar system.
The American space agency plans to launch two Europa Clipper probes to examine the moon, starting in 2022.
Earlier this week, NASA revealed that it had discovered two small breaks in the Mars Curiosity rover’s wheels.
The Europa mission’s ‘Clipper’ moniker harks back to the clipper ships that sailed across the Earth’s oceans in the 19th century, and which were renowned for their swiftness.
Scheduled to launch in 2022, the first probe will perform a flyby of the icy moon.
“During each orbit, the spacecraft spends only a short time within the challenging radiation environment near Europa. It speeds past, gathers a huge amount of science data, then sails on out of there,” said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASA.
A second probe, in the form of a robotic lander, will then follow on several years later.
Europa, which is slightly smaller than Earth’s own moon, has a liquid ocean lurking below its icy surface.
Large dark streaks on its surface are actually massive cracks in the ice.
“The fact that there’s liquid water underneath the surface which we know from previous missions, in particular from the magnetometer observations made by the Galileo spacecraft as it flew past [in the 1990s], makes it one of the most exciting potential targets to look for life,” Prof Andrew Coates of UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory told the BBC.
The clipper will carry nine scientific instruments to search for sighs of life, including a camera and a radar that can penetrate the ice.
“We’re really trying to get at Europa’s potential habitability, the ingredients for life: water, and whether there’s chemical energy for life,” Dr Pappalardo told the BBC.