American Association for the Advancement of Science

Space probe could be sent to Jupiter's moon Europa as Nasa scientist says it is the most likely place to find life

Orbiting probe around Jupiter could be launched in 2021 or 2022 and could reach the giant planet within six years

Boston

A space probe could be sent to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter and the most likely place in the Solar System for extraterrestrial life, within the next ten years, a Nasa scientist said today.

The US space agency has approved the “concept” of a probe that could orbit Jupiter and make a detailed survey of the icy surface of Europa which covers a liquid ocean where life may exist.

An orbiting probe around Jupiter could be launched in 2021 or 2022 and could reach the giant planet within six years, said Robert Pappalardo, a senior researcher at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The probe, called Clipper, will be designed to survey the surface of Europa using ice-penetrating radar and infrared sensors as it makes multiply flybys of the ice-capped “water world” from its orbit around Jupiter, Dr Pappalardo said.

Mapping data from the survey will be used to plan a future mission to make a soft landing on the moon in order to search for signs of life, Dr Pappalardo told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

“Europa is the most likely place to find life beyond Earth and there is high interest in the scientific community and the US Congress to see a Europa mission,” Dr Pappalardo said.

Nasa commissioned a report on a future Europa probe which concluded that the mission would cost $2bn, in addition to the cost of the launch vehicle and rockets. However, the mission has yet to be approved could still be rejected from future budgets, he said.

“Clipper will make multiple flybys of Europa and we are going to get some information about it but we are not going to be able to answer the big-picture questions, such as where is the liquid ocean and whether there is life there,” Dr Pappalardo said.

“We think Europa is the most likely place for being habitable because of its relatively thin ice shell, its liquid ocean and that fact that it is in contact with the rock below which is geologically active,” he said.

“We think that Europa has the right ingredients for life: it has water and the right chemical elements, as well as an environment that is probably stable over time. So the question is; how do we best explore Europa?” he told the meeting.

“It is the most likely place for life, we should be exploring it and we think we have the right concept to get there,” he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - North West - OTE £40k

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA - Croydon - up to £65,000

£58000 - £65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA - Bromley, South East London...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor