NASA’s Europa lander mission concept: Biosignature finding by Cyclodextrin derivatized GC column

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After NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover and ESA’s Rosetta’s lander, Philae, traces of life on another extraterrestial object is expected to be studied by Agilent CP-Chirasil-Dex CB column: this time on Jupiter’s most intriguing moon: Europa. As for the Red Planet, a planned new Mars lander has been reported on this blog earlier:

The Europa Lander is a NASA concept for a potential future mission that would look for signs of life on the moon’s icy surface. A gas chromatograph equipped with the cyclodextrin-bonded column will be the part of a complex instumental setup called Europan Molecular Indicators of Life Investigation (EMILI).

The moon is thought to contain a global ocean of salty liquid water beneath its frozen crust, and if life exists in that ocean, signs of its existence, called biosignatures, could potentially find their way to the surface, where a spacecraft could sample and study them.

In order to investigate whether signs of life can be detected in Europa’s surface material, a spacecraft would land on Europa and collect samples from about 4 inches (10 centimeters) beneath the surface. This is a depth at which the complex chemistry of materials from the ocean below would be protected from the damaging radiation that exists in space around Jupiter.

The samples would be analyzed for amino acids by an enantioselective method (in the hope of finding enrichment of either D- or L-enantiomers of these chiral compounds) a miniature laboratory within the robotic lander, similar to the way samples on Mars have been studied by landers and rovers on the Red Planet. Further information on the experimental setup ‘EMILI” may be accessed in Frontiers Journal (

Picture credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech (Creative commons licence)

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