With all the headlines that light up the internet each time the tiniest evidence emerges of water on Mars, it’s easy to forget that another extraterrestrial body is believed to have an entire ocean.
That body is Europa, Jupiter’s watery moon, and NASA has not forgotten it. Last year the space program announced and then expanded a mission to Europa that would take up to eight years and cost more than $1 billion.
The payoff may be worth it. Not only is Europa believed to have twice as much water under its icy shell as Earth has on its entire surface, but it produces roughly the same ratio of hydrogen and oxygen as Earth’s. That means exactly what it sounds like it means: Europa may well have the building blocks needed for life.
Accordingly, NASA has beefed up its plans to explore the place. At first it was only a flyby mission, meaning NASA was sending a spacecraft to orbit Europa and gather data from afar. Then, late last year, NASA decided to add a lander—a craft that would actually land on Europa’s surface and dig through the moon’s icy crust for signs of life.
However, the lander would only have about ten days to do its work before it succumbs to Jupiter’s intense radiation—one thing that makes life on Europa a little trickier.