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July 25, 2018

I THOUGHT WE WERE TO ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE: Europa Lander may not have to dig deep to find signs of life.

The 1,900-mile-wide Europa harbors a huge ocean beneath its icy shell. What’s more, astronomers think this water is in contact with the moon’s rocky core, making a variety of complex and intriguing chemical reactions possible.

Researchers therefore regard Europa as one of the solar system’s best bets to harbor alien life. Europa is also a geologically active world, so samples of the buried ocean may routinely make it to the surface — via localized upwelling of the ocean itself, for example, and/or through geyser-like outgassing, evidence of which has been spotted multiple times by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA aims to hunt for such samples in the not-too-distant future. The agency is developing a flyby mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early 2020s. Clipper will study Europa up close during dozens of flybys, some of which might be able to zoom through the moon’s suspected water-vapor plumes. And NASA is also working on a possible post-Clipper lander mission that would search for evidence of life at or near the Europan surface.

I’ve been waiting for this mission since reading 2010: Odyssey Two when it was first published in 1982. But since the post-Clipper lander mission isn’t even scheduled yet, I’ll have to wait a good while longer.

Faster, please.