Visualization Europa Clipper on the surface of Europe. Source: NASA / JPL / Caltech
In October of this year NASA plans to send a spacecraft on a journey to one of the 92 known satellites of Jupiter – Europe. The purpose of this space instrument, called Europa Clipper, is to help scientists determine whether Europa can support life as we know it. According to the news posted on the NASA site on January 30, Europa Clipper is already in full readiness for its journey, as all nine scientific instruments and telecommunication system were installed.
Europa Clipper is equipped with scientific equipment, including a mass spectrometer, designed to measure the relationship of mass to the charge of molecular gas on Europa, a surface analyzer and a visualizing spectrometer, providing the study of the interaction of light and matter to create detailed maps of lunar ices, salts and organic molecules. Also on board Europa Clipper are cameras placed which will take pictures of Europa’s icy surface.
Obtaining new and detailed data about the surface of Europa is an important step towards explaining many puzzling observations. For example, the study, which was conducted using another space apparatus NASA — «Junona», suggests evidence of recent activities on Europe. Meanwhile, Europa Clipper should arrive in the Jupiter system not earlier than 2030. It will be in orbit for at least four years and will complete 49 close flybys of Europa.
«We will explore Europa from its core and its rocky depths to its oceans and its icy crust, studying its very thin atmosphere and the surrounding environment of space», — said Robert Pappalardo, scientific staff member of the Europa Clipper mission.
This mission is considered extremely important, as many scientists consider Europa to be one of the most promising places to search for evidence of the presence of life in our Solar System. Europa meets many of the requirements for the existence of life as we know it, including the presence of a salty underwater ocean. Scientists inspired ideas of icy satellites with underwater oceans so much so that plans began to be developed to create cryobots capable of penetrating under the icy core. Last year the space telescope «James Webb» managed to detect carbon in the oceans of Europe.
Additionally, it is possible that there are layers of water vapor on Europe’s icy surface. Investigating these ridges is of vital importance to the mission, as the instrument will be able to collect samples from beneath the satellite, without having to land on it. The space apparatus is not intended for landing, it collects data, preparing the ground for future missions, including a lander to study Europe.
Europa Clipper will be equipped with a spectrograph to analyze the ultraviolet range to detect water vapor layers and determine how the properties of the dynamic atmosphere change over time. These data prove invaluable for understanding the ocean, as the electrical conductivity of the ocean’s salt water creates or implies the existence of a magnetic field during Europa’s passage into the stronger magnetic field of Jupiter. Additionally, the instrument, paired with a magnetometer, will probe the plasma around Europa, which can detect magnetic fields, providing new data on the satellite’s position.
Also as part of the mission, the Europa Clipper radar will send radio waves to the surface of Europa, and then analyze their reflection from various objects on the ice surface and in the ocean. This will allow determining the approximate distance to these objects. As a result of this research, a detailed picture of what Europe looks like under ice will be obtained. Launch of the antenna for this instrument is planned in the second half of this year.
Mission Europa Clipper represents an important step in the exploration of Europa and the search for extraterrestrial life in our Solar System. Scientific data collected within the framework of this mission will help improve understanding of the spectrum of conditions to support life on other planets.