NASA plans to fly a spacecraft to Europa, an icy marble that is one of Jupiter’s 92 known moons, in October. The primary goal of the probe? to assist researchers in determining whether Europa can sustain life as we know it.
The government sent a release on Tuesday, January 30, describing this robotic explorer as the Europa Clipper. Clipper appears to be well-prepared for its interstellar voyage. To put it briefly, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California is home to all nine of its scientific instruments as well as a telecommunication system, not to mention my name (literally). That’s a different tale, though.
The technology haul includes instruments such as an image spectrometer that will map out the moon’s ices, salts, and organic molecules; a surface dust analyzer; and a mass spectrometer that will quantify the mass-to-charge ratio of gas molecules on Europa.
Naturally, Europa Clipper is equipped with cameras that NASA claims will capture both wide- and narrow-angle images of the moon’s icy surface. As a result, we should be able to see some amazing color images that will simulate what it would be like to step on a moon hundreds of millions of kilometers away from Earth.
Apart from the obvious reasons, this is quite intriguing since it could help explain some of the mysterious observations made by scientists. For example, there is a research that claims NASA’s Juno mission, which is studying Jupiter, discovered recent activity in the region.
Speaking of, Clipper is scheduled to enter the Jupiter system no early than 2030 due to that astronomically large distance. For a minimum of four years, the spacecraft will circle the massive planet, making 49 close flybys of Europa.
As stated in the announcement, “The instruments work together hand-in-hand to answer our most pressing questions about Europa,” according to project scientist Robert Pappalardo. “We will learn what makes Europa tick, from its core and rocky interior to its ocean and ice shell to its very thin atmosphere and the surrounding space environment.”
Because many scientists believe Europa to be one of the greatest locations in our solar system to look for signs of extraterrestrial life, this expedition seems particularly significant. It satisfies a plethora of conditions, including the presence of a salty subterranean ocean, that a world must have in order to support life as we know it. The idea of icy moons with subterranean oceans excites scientists so much that they have started formulating plans to build cryobots—robots that can “burrow” beneath frozen crusts and wait for the crust to thaw and re-form—someday. Additionally, the James Webb Space Telescope discovered signs of carbon in the subterranean sea of Europa barely a year ago.
Furthermore, plumes of water vapor could be coming from Europa’s frozen surface. Europa Clipper needs that section in order to possibly collect samples from the moon’s surface without ever setting foot on there. (Clipper is not going to land; instead, it is collecting information for a possible mission to land on Europa.)
In order to explore that alluring, hidden ocean, the spaceship will have a few tricks up its sleeve (picture it anyway you choose). “A magnetometer will be onboard as well as a spectrograph to collect ultraviolet light to search for plumes and identify how the properties of the dynamic atmosphere change over time,” the NASA announcement said.
“That data will be key to understanding the ocean, because the field is created, or induced, by the electrical conductivity of the ocean’s saltwater as Europa moves through Jupiter’s strong magnetic field,” according to the announcement. “Working in tandem with the magnetometer is an instrument that will analyze the plasma (charged particles) around Europa, which can distort magnetic fields.”
In the meantime, radio waves will be sent to Europa’s surface via a radar device, which will then observe how the waves reflect off of particular objects that may be found on the frozen surface or even in the ocean. By measuring the time it took for the waves to return, scientists can determine the distance of those characteristics. All all, this ought to paint a very accurate image of what’s underneath Europa’s icy envelope. The crew reports that later this year, the antennae needed for this device will be installed aboard the craft.
In the end, the crew believes that the key to this mission is for everything to function together and ultimately generate the finest map of the intriguing ice world ever. There are also a few more sensors that will add to the synergy onboard Europa Clipper.
“The science is better if we obtain the observations at the same time,” stated Pappalardo. “What we’re striving for is integration, so that at any point we are using all the instruments to study Europa at once and there is no need to have to trade off among them.”