salt found on Europa
Tara Regio is the yellowish area to left of center, in this NASA Galileo image of Europa’s surface, where researchers identified abundant sodium chloride NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Scientists working on NASA's future mission to Jupiter's moon Europa are hoping that the expedition will discover traces of alien life. The space agency's scientists are looking to accomplish this through a special experiment that the mission will carry out on Europa.

NASA's upcoming mission to Jupiter's icy moon will be conducted using the Clipper spacecraft, which is expected to launch sometime in 2025. According to Robert Pappalardo of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the project scientist for the Europa Clipper Mission, the main objective of the mission is to determine the moon's capability of hosting and supporting life. Through the mission, the project scientist and his colleagues are hoping that Clipper will encounter evidence of organic life during its voyage.

"We're a habitability mission," Pappalardo said during the 70th International Astronautical Congress held recently in Washington, D.C., according to Space.com. "We're trying to understand, Is Europa a habitable environment?"

"We're not a life-search mission," Pappalardo continued. "But, if Europa's interior happened to be rich in organic microbes pouring out of it, we would be able to tell from the mass spectra — probably, possibly — that we're sensing life. That's a longshot, but it's not impossible."

Juno’s Latest Flyby of Jupiter Captures Two Massive Storms
This image of Jupiter’s turbulent southern hemisphere was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it performed its most recent close flyby of the gas giant planet on Dec. 21, 2018. This new perspective captures the notable Great Red Spot, as well as a massive storm called Oval BA. The storm reached its current size when three smaller spots collided and merged in the year 2000. The Great Red Spot, which is about twice as wide as Oval BA, may have formed from the same process centuries ago. Juno captured Oval BA in another image earlier on in the mission on Feb. 7, 2018. The turbulent regions around, and even the shape of, the storm have significantly changed since then. Oval BA further transformed in recent months, changing color from reddish to a more uniform white. Juno took the three images used to produce this color-enhanced view on Dec. 21, between 9:32 a.m. PST (12:32 p.m. EST) and 9:42 a.m. PST (12:42 p.m. EST). At the time the images were taken, the spacecraft was between approximately 23,800 miles (38,300 kilometers) to 34,500 miles (55,500 kilometers) from the planet’s cloud tops above southern latitudes spanning 49.15 to 59.59 degrees. Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran created this image using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

As mentioned by the project scientist, the mass spectrometer is one of the nine scientific instruments that Clipper will carry for its Europa mission. This instrument is designed to measure the masses of ions in the samples that will be collected by the spacecraft. Pappalardo and his team are hoping that these samples would contain traces of extraterrestrial life.

Unlike NASA's other planetary missions, Clipper will not land on Europa. Instead, the spacecraft will only carry out flybys on the icy moon by following Jupiter's orbit. From these flybys, the spacecraft will collect samples from the moon's atmosphere. According to Pappalardo, this experiment will determine if Europa emits water vapor plumes from its surface and into its atmosphere.

"Early in the mission, we'll be searching for plumes and trying to understand, are they real?" he explained. "Are they there? Where are they? Are they sporadic or continuously active? And maybe we'll fortuitously go through a plume, or maybe we'll be able to adjust the orbit slightly in order to go through a plume," he added.