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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics


NASA’s Mission to Europa: Exploring a Potentially Habitable World

Dr. Robert Pappalardo, NASA/JPL Project Scientist

5:00-6:00 pm, Friday, September 23, 2016

Benson Earth Sciences, Room 180, CU Boulder

Reception to follow


Abstract:  Jupiter’s moon Europa may have an internal ocean of liquid water, along with the chemistry and energy that life requires.  In the cold reaches of the outer solar system, the uppermost portion of Europa’s icy shell forms a rock-hard skin which fractures and deforms to create cracks, ridges, and bands.  But Galileo spacecraft data tell of a warm interior, with a convecting icy shell above a liquid water ocean, leading to partial melting and formation of chaotic terrains.  Exploration of Europa has been deemed an extremely high priority for planetary science, given this moon’s potential to support simple life.  After many years of study, NASA recently selected a highly capable suite of remote sensing and in situinstruments for a mission to explore Europa and investigate its habitability through multiple close flybys with a robotic spacecraft.   The mission will interrogate the moon’s ice shell, ocean, composition, geology, and current activity.  In understanding Europa’s potential for life, we can address the fundamental question: Are we alone in the Universe?