MSNBC has reported that scientists may finally get a chance to probe Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede for signs of microbial life, by looking in what are thought to be liquid oceans beneath their frozen crusts.
The Europa Jupiter Systems Mission is one of three finalists vying to carry out the European Space Agency’s next big mission. The other two missions vying for funding are the International X-ray Observatory, which could reveal what happens in the vicinity of black holes, and Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, which will “listen” to gravitational waves, giving space-time a sort of soundtrack. All three mission plans were presented on February 3rd, 2011, at a conference in Paris.
All three missions are international collaborations, so Europe’s decision is tied to and will have consequences for the priorities of NASA, a partner on all three, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, a partner on IXO.
Under the joint NASA-ESA Europa Jupiter Systems Mission, NASA will target Europa, an ice-covered moon thought to harbor a liquid ocean beneath its crust; ESA will head to Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system.
Which mission is set as a priority in Europe will become clearer this June. NASA has thrown preliminary support behind all three. Whatever the decision may be, the mission selected wouldn’t launch until around 2020.