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NASA details mission to discover whether Europa moon is habitable


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With potential oceans flowing below its icy surface, NASA thinks Jupiter's Europa moon is promising candidate to harbor organic life. As such, the space agency and its JPL laboratory are looking to send a lander there within a decade, and have detailed what it wants it to explore in a new paper. Key goals include measuring the organic content of surface and near-surface chemistry, exploring mineralogy, measuring the thickness and salinity of the oceans and ice, imaging surface formations and looking at microscopic ice and non-ice grains. Researchers also looked at potential landing sites, and were torn between a more interesting, active site like "Thera Macula" and a more stable location with ancient geology. NASA's Juno mission, launched in August 2011, is expected to help settle such issues when it probes Europa from orbit starting in 2016. Though it'd be hard to top Curiosity's setdown, a Europa landing could be even more dramatic, considering the moon is over 10 times farther away than Mars and never gets above minus 370 degrees Fahrenheit.

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