NASA prepping plans to explore the ice-covered oceans underneath Europa

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Jul 17, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT (Updated)

The minds at NASA have long suspected Jupiter’s icy moon Europa might be home to a vast, potentially habitable ocean — and now they’re officially cooking up plans to do some exploring.

The space agency has issued a call for proposals to explore Europa, and they’re hoping to generate ideas for equipment and instruments specifically designed to study the oceans that may lie underneath the moon’s icy exterior. Scientists have previously found evidence of waterspouts as tall as Mount Everest on the moon, which leads them to believe it could house an ocean larger than all of Earth’s oceans combined.

Though the mission is obviously intended to research the moon, the main goal is to determine if there is an ocean under there and if — now this is the biggie — it might actually contain life. NASA's Science Mission Directorate associate administrator John Grunsfeld put it simply in a statement: “The possibility of life on Europa is a motivating force for scientists and engineers around the world.”

They’re basically hoping the open solicitation will result in ideas for instruments that could survive the trip and harsh conditions. One big reason? Europa is covered with a ton of radiation surrounding it, so they’ll need to make sure the craft can handle it. Plus, they have to specialize the equipment so we don’t contaminate the Europa ocean, if we actually find it.

It’s exciting to think we might actually get a craft to Europa soon, and NASA plans to announce the winning instrument designs next year. What do you think we’ll find once we finally get there?

(Via Space)