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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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Plaut hopes to use radar to investigate some of these questions when the European Space Agency's JUICE (short for JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission) spacecraft launches. The spacecraft is expected to launch in 2022 and arrive at Jupiter in 2030. JUICE will make a flyby of Europa twice and explore other moons in the Jupiter system

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Landing on Europa

Traveling to and landing on Europa could present unique challenges.

At the moment, scientists aren't precisely sure what the surface of the moon looks like. Some researchers have theorized that the moon's equator harbors spikes of ice, and it's possible that the outer shell of the planet shifts, making it even more difficult to understand where a lander should be set down.

The landing itself could also be a difficult prospect.  While scientists in charge of the Curiosity rover on Mars experienced "7 minutes of terror" during the robot's sky crane descent to the Red Planet, landing a probe on Europa could be more panic-inducing.

Engineers would experience "one and a half hours of terror" because of the moon's distance from Earth, Hand told SPACE.com.

"On Europa there is no atmosphere, and that's bad because you can't use a parachute to slow down. It's good because it means that your spacecraft can, for the most part, do a pinpoint landing once it finds a safe spot to land." Hand said. "The lander would have to have some intelligence onboard to allow it to navigate even in the best-case scenario of us having imagery from a prior mission."

Imagining a Europa mission

The minds behind the science fiction movie "Europa Report" aren't waiting for another mission to launch before bringing their vision of the moon to the big screen.

The movie, which opened on Aug. 2, chronicles the fate of the fictional crew of the first manned mission to Europa. The story unfolds through postmortem interviews that reveal what happened as the crew traveled to and landed on the moon.

The filmmakers set out to make the most realistic depiction of the world they could, asking Hand to consult with them on the scientific aspects of the movie before its release.

"It makes all the difference when the science and some of the aspects of the natural environment are in and of themselves a character in the movie," Hand said. "Perhaps most importantly and most exciting about the movie from my perspective is their portrayal of scientists I think is quite accurate and engaging."

Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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