• NASA plans to search for alien life in Europa and Enceladus
  • Missions are being prepared to explore Jupiter and Saturn's moons
  • NASA plans to deploy a snake-like robot to explore Enceladus 

Other than Mars, scientists at NASA are looking to explore other worlds to search for alien life. Some of the places they plan to visit are Europa and Enceladus, the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn respectively.

Scientists believe that the liquid oceans hiding beneath the icy crusts of these natural satellites could be hiding signs of alien life. Since the oceans of these moons are most likely in contact with their rocky cores, a chemical reaction may have led to the evolution of life, reported.

Currently, NASA is working on a couple of projects that are focused on exploring Europa. One of these is the mission known as Europa Clipper, which would involve sending a robotic probe to study the surface of Jupiter’s moon. Once there, the probe is also expected to collect readings from the moon’s liquid oceans to detect traces of microbial life.

Another project that NASA is working on is a nuclear-powered drill system that’s designed to penetrate Europa’s thick icy shell, which is estimated to be about 9 to 16 miles deep. The system, known as the Scientific Exploration Subsurface Access Mechanism for Europa, will be brought to the moon through a lander in a future mission. It will then be used to reach the natural satellite’s subsurface oceans to check for the presence of life.

Although NASA could use the same technologies for the exploration of Saturn’s Enceladus, the agency is currently developing new projects for future missions to the moon. This includes the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS), which is an autonomous snake-like robot. It was designed to slip in between the cracks on Enceladus’ surface to explore its liquid oceans.

NASA confirmed that EELS will be part of a flagship mission to Enceladus. Aside from the robot, the mission would also involve deploying a lander, a probe and an orbiter to the natural satellite.

“A single Flagship-level mission that would search for life on Enceladus’ surface, within its ice shell and in the subsurface ocean may be the most comprehensive opportunity for astrobiology in the coming decade,” NASA scientists Jason Hofgartner stated.

Europa Clipper
This artist's rendering shows NASA's Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. The concept image shows two large solar arrays extending from the sides of the spacecraft, to which the mission's ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached. A saucer-shaped high-gain antenna is also side mounted, with a magnetometer boom placed next to it. On the forward end of the spacecraft (at left in this view) is a remote-sensing palette, which houses the rest of the science instrument payload. NASA/JPL-Caltech