President Barack Obama has proposed a $17.5 billion NASA budget for 2015. While the science community debates the gains and losses reflected in the funding, one new area of interest is to start planning on a trip to a world of water.
After all, we are water-based creatures on a watery world, with 75 percent of the Earth covered in seas. There is a moon orbiting Jupiter known as Europa, which is believed to be completely covered in ocean, topped by an icy crust.
The proposed NASA budget calls for $15 million to start planning an unmanned space probe that would head to Europa and investigate. Scientific opinion has been cited that the most likely place for life as we know it within our solar system beyond the Earth may be on Europa.
Plumes of water have been detected spraying from the frozen satellite.
Europa is about 1,950 miles across, slightly smaller than the Earth's moon (2,160 miles)
Europa is one of the four largest satellites of Jupiter, discovered by the astronomer Galileo in 1610, the first to study the night sky with a telescope.
The next clear evening be sure to look high in the south after it gets dark. The planet Jupiter is shining brilliantly between the stars of Orion and the two bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux.
With only a pair of binoculars, held rock steady or mounted on a tripod, you can usually make out two or three, or possibly all four "Galilean Moons." They appear as stars on either side or both sides of the overwhelmingly brighter parent planet, very close by.
The moons, in order from Jupiter, are named Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
A small telescope giving 30x or more magnification will show them very clearly. You can watch over the course of a couple hours and actually detect shifts in the moons' positions. The arrangement is always different, night to night.
Sometimes the moon will "disappear" as it slides into Jupiter's shadow or in front of or in back of the planet. If the air is very steady and you have a sufficiently large telescope, you can see the ink-black speck of the moon's shadow on Jupiter's cloud deck, as the moon passes in front. You may also be able to detect dark band and spots in the clouds.
But which of the four you see is Europa? There are monthly charts available in magazines and online to unravel which one is which in their orbits.
The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) is a mission to Europa that is due to launch in 2022. NASA is planning a robotic mission that would be launched in the "mid-2020s."
You can get a closer look the next clear night!
Full moon is on March 16.
Keep looking up!