The US space agency issued a press release early Thursday morning telling the world it had some noteworthy news to tell us about Europa.
In a sparsely worded statement, NASA said it will hold a media call on Monday afternoon local time (Tuesday morning AEST) which has to do with “evidence of surprising activity on Europa.”
Europa is Jupiter’s icy moon and apparently scientists have discovered something unexpected.
NASA’s teleconference will “present new findings from images captured by the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa,” the agency said.
“Astronomers will present results from a unique Europa observing campaign that resulted in surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean on Europa.”
It remains to be seen exactly what the surprising evidence is, but NASA was quick to squash any speculation of aliens by tweeting: “Spoiler alert: NOT aliens.”
The teleconference will involve top NASA scientists including Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters and Jennifer Wiseman, senior Hubble project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
THE PATH TO EUROPA
In 1989 NASA commenced its Galileo mission by launching a spacecraft to study Jupiter and its mysterious moons. The 14-year-long mission gave us unprecedented insight into several solar system bodies and yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness.
“With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet,” NASA said last year.
NASA image artist image projection showing a body of water under the icy surface of one of Jupiter’s moons, called Europa.
NASA image artist image projection showing a body of water under the icy surface of one of Jupiter’s moons, called Europa.Source:Supplied
This what scientists believe is the make-up of Europa’s core and subsurface. Picture: Astronomy / Moon
This what scientists believe is the make-up of Europa’s core and subsurface. Picture: Astronomy / MoonSource:News Corp Australia
NASA’s mission to Europa has been years in the making and the space agency is aiming to send a spacecraft to land on Europa in the coming decade.
In 2015 NASA science chief John Grunsfeld urged scientists to consider how a potential mission to Jupiter’s small icy moon could search for signs of alien life.
“This is our chance,” Mr Grunsfeld said during a workshop at the Ames Research Centre in California. “I just hope we don’t miss this opportunity for lack of ideas.”
Under the $2.1 billion plan, NASA would search plumes of water vapour that are believed to blast from the moon’s south polar region, possibly allowing scientists to sample the liquid beneath Europa’s frozen surface.
The earliest any spacecraft could blast off for Europa is 2022, and it wouldn’t arrive for another eight years.