Europa Clipper Mission, A Potentially Habitable Ocean World!
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If you’re a Jupiter lover and a stargazer, then you probably observed Europa; one of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, and you probably wondered if humans ever visited this moon, or at least sent a spacecraft! Well, you’re in luck, because soon, a spacecraft will indeed visit Europa!
We appreciate NASA is finally dedicating a special mission to discover Jupiter’s icy and cold moon Europa! If you’re not familiar with Europa from stargazing nights, at least you might have seen it in one of NASA’s spectacular photos.
Even though no past missions have been especially dedicated to visiting Europa, a few missions did in fact fly past it or observe it up close. These missions are: Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, and the most recent is the Galileo spacecraft that launched back in 1989.
In addition to these past missions, NASA constantly monitors Europa using the Hubble Space Telescope that observed evidence for water plumes on the moon back in 2012. But, if we can already study Europa using past flybys and the Hubble Space Telescope, then why do we need a special mission to go there?
That’s a very good question, studying Europa up close serves one of NASA’s and humanity’s biggest long term goals, which is searching for extraterrestrial life. Now, you might think searching for life outside Earth means going off to a far away galaxy and exploring planets thousands of light years away.
And while that possibility is taken under consideration, we must also not neglect the vast possibilities of extraterrestrial life inside our own solar system. And what better place to start looking than a moon that’s speculatively rich in sub-surface salty water with a thin oxygen atmosphere.
Europa falls under the classification “Ocean World” and that’s because past missions have suggested the existence of oceans underneath the moon’s icy crust. Oceans so vast, their volume is estimated to be around 3 billion cubic kilometers, that’s more than double the volume of Earth’s oceans!
And in expression of the importance of further discovering Europa, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said:
“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,”
Now that we have discussed why we must further study Europa, and you’re hopefully convinced with the reasons presented, let’s start talking about the mission. The mission is called “Europa Clipper” and it’s a collaboration between NASA and the “Jet propulsion Laboratory” in Caltech and the “Applied Physics Laboratory” in Johns Hopkins University.
“Europa Clipper” is designed as an orbiter to perform multiple flybys of Europa to comprehensively study all areas of the moon, the spacecraft will be 6 meters (~20 feet) high with huge solar panels measuring 22 meters (72 feet) across. And to talk back to Earth, “Europa Clipper” will be equipped with a 3 meters (~10 feet) high gain antenna.
Orbiting Jupiter once every two weeks, “Europa Clipper” will perform a total of about 45 close flybys, the spacecraft’s altitude above Europa will vary from 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) at the closest point to 2,700 kilometers (1677 miles) at the farthest point.
NASA is sending “Europa Clipper” to help scientists and astrobiologists answer big questions in science, therefore the mission has clear and concise scientific goals:
1- Determining the characteristics of the sub-surface ocean, alongside looking for water in the moon’s outer shell and measuring its thickness.
2- Studying chemical components in Europa’s atmosphere, and their origin.
3- Measuring Europa’s magnetic field and determining its various parameters.
4- Studying geological activities on the moon and its surface features and looking for suitable landing sites for possible future missions.
5- Investigating Europa’s capabilities to host life as we know it on Earth which provides progress into astrobiology.
To tackle these goals, a wide range of scientific instruments are on board “Europa Clipper”, the mission has 9 various instruments to make sure scientists have all they need up there to do the science.
Credits: Ron Miller
Credits: Nasa/Shutterstock/Storyblocks/Elon Musk/SpaceX
credits: esa/k. retherford/swri/langley/europa clipper mission/m.kornmesser/jpl caltech
kevin gill (cc by 2.0)
#InsaneCuriosity #EuropaMoon #EuropaClipperMission
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