NASA is speculating that there may be life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, the sixth largest moon in the Solar System. The agency wants to send scientists to the icy moon to search for signs of alien life.
NASA officials discussed the matter during a workshop on Wednesday at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
“This is our chance,” NASA science chief John Grunsfeld told National Geographic on Friday. “I just hope we don’t miss this opportunity for lack of ideas.”
The potential mission would consist of sending scientists to explore the plumes of water vapor, which was first discovered by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2012. The plumes blast from the moon’s southern polar region. Researchers hope to sample the liquid located beneath the moon’s surface.
“We are going to do a Europa mission, and I'm very excited about that," Grunsfield added. "I think it's unlikely that Congress is going tell us, 'No, NASA shouldn't be doing a Europa mission.' Very unlikely."
NASA has wanted to send explorers to Europa for years, but may finally be able to do so next year after approval from the White House of $30 million for a visit to Europa as part of its 2016 budget.
Europa was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei. In December of 2013, NASA reported the detection of phyllosilicates, or clay-like minerals, on its icy crust. Phyllosilicates are often found alongside organic material. NASA also announced that the water vapor plumes on Europa were similar to those detected on one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus.
There are 67 moons surrounding Jupiter, with the four largest called the Galilean moons – Io, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. They are the largest objects in the solar system besides the sun and the eight planets.