An anonymous reader writes: National Geographic has a detailed article about efforts underway to search for life in the oceans of Europa, which are buried beneath miles of ice. A first mission would have a spacecraft orbit just 16 miles over the moon's surface, analyzing the material ejected from the moon, measuring salinity, and sniffing out its chemical makeup. A later mission would then deploy a rover. But unlike the rovers we've built so far, this one would be designed to go underwater and navigate using the bottom surface of the ice over the oceans. An early design was just tested successfully underneath the ice in Alaska. "[It] crawls along under a foot of ice, its built-in buoyancy keeping it firmly pressed against the frozen subsurface, sensors measuring the temperature, salinity, pH, and other characteristics of the water."
Astronomers and astrobiologists are hopeful that these missions will provide definitive evidence of life on other worlds. "Europa certainly seems to have the basic ingredients for life. Liquid water is abundant, and the ocean floor may also have hydrothermal vents, similar to Earth's, that could provide nutrients for any life that might exist there. Up at the surface, comets periodically crash into Europa, depositing organic chemicals that might also serve as the building blocks of life. Particles from Jupiter's radiation belts split apart the hydrogen and oxygen that makes up the ice, forming a whole suite of molecules that living organisms could use to metabolize chemical nutrients from the vents."