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Jupiter's moon Europa: Send a submarine to explore it?

Jupiter's moon Europa is a icy shell with an underground ocean. The new movie 'Europa Report' is based on real science, and NASA ideas about how to explore Jupiter's fourth largest moon.

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With a cold ocean under an icy shell, some have theorized that Europa is the most likely place to find life in the solar system.

NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

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Jupiter's icy moon Europa is shrouded in mystery.

Scientists have long been intrigued by Jupiter's fourth largest moon with its underground ocean and icy shell. Researchers have said that Europa's saltwater ocean could harbor life, and some have theorized that it is the most likely place to find life in the solar system.

"[Europa] is one of the premier places to search for living life, that is, life that's alive today, life that we can poke and prod at and ask this fundamental question of what makes it tick," said Kevin Hand, the deputy chief scientist of solar system exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Is its fundamental biochemistry the same as that on Earth or is it different? Is the origin of life easy or hard? There are all questions that Europa could potentially answer." [See Photos of Europa, An Icy Moon of Jupiter]

Unmanned robotic landers, deep space probes and even manned missions could help researchers answer some of those outstanding questions.

Scientists know that Europa is covered in a shell of ice, and data suggest that an ocean of liquid water also lurks below the surface. Some hope to send a submersible with the ability to dive beneath the ice to explore Europa's salty interior.

Building a submersible

In 2011, NASA awarded Stone Aerospace $4 million to continue the development of its "cryobot" project designed to autonomously explore the ocean of the moon.

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