Europa Clipper is NASA’s mission to discover Jupiter’s moon Europa and decide whether or not its underground ocean is liveable.
It’s scheduled to launch on Oct. 6, 2024, atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
Found in 1610 by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, Europa is among the most promising locations within the photo voltaic system to seek for life past Earth, scientists say.
Associated: The ten weirdest moons within the photo voltaic system
When will Europa Clipper launch?
The $5 billion Europa Clipper spacecraft is scheduled to blast off on Oct. 6, 2024, from Launch Complicated 39A at Kennedy House Middle in Florida, driving on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. First, it is going to head towards Mars.
On Feb. 27, 2025, Europa Clipper will achieve a gravitational help from the Crimson Planet, stealing a few of Mars’ momentum to be slingshotted again towards Earth. On Dec. 1, 2026, the spacecraft will get an Earth gravity help and be thrown on a high-speed trajectory in direction of Jupiter, NASA’s Europa Clipper mission web page explains (opens in new tab). Orbital scientists name this a Mars-Earth gravity help (MEGA) trajectory.
When will Europa Clipper arrive at Jupiter?
Europa Clipper will attain Jupiter on April 11, 2030, when it is going to enter an extended, looping orbit across the gasoline big planet, scientists defined in a paper revealed within the Journal of Steering, Management, and Dynamics (opens in new tab). The spacecraft will take a yr to regulate its orbit round Jupiter, fine-tuning its trajectory to deliver it shut sufficient to Europa for the primary of practically 50 shut flybys, in keeping with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and House Physics on the College of Colorado Boulder (opens in new tab).
Europa Clipper will orbit Jupiter as an alternative of Europa due to the hazard of radiation. Jupiter has dozens of moons; the 4 largest are referred to as the Galilean moons. So as of their distance from Jupiter, they’re the volcanic Io (which is so shut that it’s stretched and squeezed by Jupiter’s large gravitational grip), Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. NASA explains (opens in new tab) that, because the second massive moon out from Jupiter, Europa is sort of deep inside Jupiter’s magnetosphere, the immense magnetic envelope generated by Jupiter’s highly effective magnetic subject. Charged particles zip across the magnetosphere within the type of plasma, with sufficient power to fry a spacecraft’s electronics if it had been to linger deep inside the magnetosphere.
So Europa Clipper, like NASA’s Juno mission earlier than it, will undertake an elliptical orbit that takes it far out from Jupiter and the radiation for a lot of the orbit, earlier than crusing in for a detailed strategy of Europa after which again out, time and again. It will permit the spacecraft to go over a special a part of the moon every time to survey all the floor.
Why is the Europa Clipper going to Jupiter’s neighborhood?
(opens in new tab)
NASA is sending a spacecraft to research Europa as a result of it is among the most promising locations within the photo voltaic system to hunt for extraterrestrial life. A number of missions — together with Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and a pair of, Galileo, Juno, Cassini and New Horizons — have gathered robust proof that Europa comprises an enormous ocean (opens in new tab) in its inside, beneath a shell of ice estimated to be between 2 to twenty miles (3 to 30 kilometers) thick in keeping with NASA (opens in new tab).
Astrobiologists surprise if the place there’s water, there is also life. Europa Clipper will make at the very least 45 shut flybys of the Jovian moon. From the spacecraft’s vantage level excessive above Europa’s floor, Europa Clipper ought to be capable of discover out whether or not the circumstances in Europa’s ocean are appropriate for all times as we all know it.
Europa Clipper FAQs answered by an skilled
We requested Marshall Styczinski, a NASA postdoctoral fellow engaged on Europa Clipper on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, a couple of regularly requested questions in regards to the mission.
Marshall Styczinski is a NASA postdoctoral fellow engaged on Europa Clipper on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Why is Europa so necessary for planetary science?
We’ve robust proof for a liquid water ocean there! Water is required by all recognized life, and the circumstances within the ocean can inform us quite a bit in regards to the historical past of Europa and why it seems to be the way in which it does, inside and outside. Even higher, Europa’s ocean is probably going in touch with the rocky seafloor. Meaning we anticipate chemical reactions that will create hydrothermal vents, like in Earth’s oceans. Hydrothermal vents help thriving ecosystems on Earth, so that they is perhaps doing the identical on Europa.
Intense radiation from Jupiter produces oxidants on the floor too. Oxidants are wanted for microbes, like how a fireplace on Earth wants each a gas supply and oxygen to maintain burning. Together with the gases produced in hydrothermal vents, there is perhaps all that life must get began, develop and survive in Europa’s ocean. Understanding how and the place these actions is perhaps happening inside Europa will assist us decide whether or not there is perhaps life inside Europa and the way we’d apply the identical strategies to different moons and planets.
What indicators of habitability will Europa Clipper be on the lookout for?
So many issues! All the investigations on board Europa Clipper are geared towards attempting to raised perceive Europa, together with whether or not the ocean is liveable. Different locations, like melted elements of the ice shell, is perhaps liveable too, and if we are able to discover them, we’ll research them too. My experience is in magnetic fields and geophysics, so I will communicate to that.
We are able to constrain the properties of the ocean from combining measurements of the gravity subject, magnetic subject and ice-penetrating radar. Gravity helps us work out how deep the seafloor is, the magnetic subject pertains to the quantity and kind of salts dissolved within the water, and radar can inform us the thickness of the ice shell throughout a flyby.
We’d like measurements from the opposite devices to raised perceive which sorts of salts are prone to be discovered within the ocean. Once we put every part collectively, we are able to infer what stress, temperature and salt content material the ocean exists underneath. Then, evaluating to related Earth environments permits us to grasp the ocean’s habitability. There’s quite a bit concerned in peering down by way of 20 miles [32 km] of ice to research the ocean!
How deep do we expect Europa’s ocean is?
The measurements we now have from Galileo give a reasonably big selection for the ocean depth and the ice shell thickness over it. Most estimates vary from 31 to 93 miles [50 to 150 km] for the ocean depth and between 3 and 25 miles [5 and 40 km] for the ice shell thickness. These estimates are from interpretation of the gravity subject, magnetic subject and floor circumstances of Europa. Some floor options — resembling temperatures, crater shapes and terrain varieties — restrict the thickness of the ice shell to be inside a sure vary. Geophysical fashions of how the ice shell adjustments over time are additionally necessary for deciphering the measurements.
How a lot radiation will the spacecraft be uncovered to at Jupiter?
We’ve a suggestion for the way a lot radiation Europa Clipper is rated to resist and nonetheless perform properly. Spacecraft have a special response to radiation than people, so the numbers are a bit exhausting to narrate to. Within the present mission plan, we anticipate to obtain about 3 megarads (Mrad) throughout rather less than 50 flybys. Europa Clipper is designed with radiation-hardened parts which might be well-prepared for the extraordinary radiation. The mission is designed round an elliptical orbit round Jupiter that offers us loads of time in low-radiation environments far-off from the planet to ship again the info we collect once we dip in near fly by Europa.
Primarily based on considered one of my favourite charts ever — the XKCD Radiation Chart (opens in new tab) — and my estimates of the radiation varieties the spacecraft will expertise, in every flyby, Europa Clipper will face up to about six to 10 instances the deadly dose for a human. This quantity of radiation will not be a giant deal for the spacecraft, although, as a result of it is designed with numerous redundancy in computing and constructed with robust parts. We’ve numerous nice engineers on the challenge with expertise designing for these environments!
All in regards to the Europa Clipper spacecraft
Europa Clipper would be the largest spacecraft that NASA has ever launched to a different planetary system. Most of Europa Clipper’s massive dimension comes from its photo voltaic panel array, which, when deployed, will span 100 toes (30 meters) — longer than a tennis courtroom. It needs to be this large due to Jupiter’s distance from the solar; the large planet is 5 instances farther from the solar than Earth is, and the solar’s rays are 25 instances extra feeble there in contrast with people who gentle up our planet, so extra space is required to collect sufficient daylight to energy the spacecraft. The majority of the spacecraft, with out the photo voltaic panels, is a extra modest 16 toes (5 m) in top. Europa Clipper’s “dry mass” — that’s, its mass not together with gas — is 7,145 kilos (3,241 kilograms). At launch, with its tanks stuffed with thruster gas, Europa Clipper will probably be about 13,000 kilos (6,000 kg), in keeping with NASA (opens in new tab).
To guard in opposition to the hazardous radiation of the surroundings close to Jupiter and Europa, the spacecraft’s electronics are encased inside an armored “vault” with 0.3-inch-thick (9 millimeters) aluminum partitions, just like the design of the radiation vault on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.
Europa Clipper devices
On board Europa Clipper are many science devices that will probably be used to totally characterize the icy moon.
The Europa Imaging System (opens in new tab) (EIS, pronounced “ice”) contains each wide- and narrow-angle 8-megapixel cameras and can picture about 90% of Europa’s floor with a decision of at the very least 330 toes (100 m) per pixel. Through the closest flybys, when the spacecraft will come inside 16 miles (25 km) of the moon, the picture decision will probably be nearly as good as 1.5 toes (0.5 m) per pixel, NASA says.
The Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (opens in new tab) (E-THEMIS) will observe Europa’s floor in infrared gentle, on the lookout for hotter areas that might point out the existence of liquid water nearer to the floor.
The Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (opens in new tab) (MISE) will break up gentle mirrored from Europa’s floor right into a spectrum. Any darkish traces or vibrant emissions traces within the spectrum will give away the presence of sure molecules, resembling natural molecules which might be necessary for all times, in addition to numerous ices and salts that might give some indication of the composition of the underground ocean.
The Europa Ultraviolet Spectrograph (opens in new tab) (Europa-UVS) may even break down gentle from Europa’s floor into its part wavelengths — on this case, in ultraviolet gentle — once more on the lookout for emission and absorption traces within the spectrum that may reveal the molecular composition of the floor ice. This instrument may even search for plumes of water vapor spraying up by way of vents within the floor; these jets have beforehand been detected by the Hubble House Telescope.
Europa’s water plumes, which spray excessive above the floor, may even be studied by the Mass Spectrometer for Planetary Exploration/Europa (opens in new tab) (MASPEX), which is able to acquire gases from the plumes because the spacecraft flies by way of them. MASPEX will analyze these gases, on the lookout for natural molecules that might be the constructing blocks of life, or molecules that might act as a meals supply for microbial life.
The Floor Mud Mass Analyzer (opens in new tab) (SUDA) may even research materials coming off of Europa — on this case, molecules blasted off the floor by the perpetual bombardment of micrometeorites. In keeping with NASA, the tiny impacts pepper away on the icy floor a lot that at anybody time, there’s about 1,100 kilos (500 kg) of floor materials floating above Europa in its tenuous “environment,” referred to as an exosphere. Learning these tiny ice and dirt particles offers Europa Clipper a means of assessing floor supplies straight with out having to land.
Radar for Europa Evaluation and Sounding: Ocean to Close to-surface (opens in new tab) (REASON) is an ice-penetrating radar that may look beneath Europa’s floor, trying to find radar echoes from the ocean beneath, or pockets of liquid water within the icy shell, to find out the thickness of the shell and the depth of the ocean, in addition to present some clues as to the construction of the ice shell primarily based on the radar reflections.
The Europa Clipper Magnetometer (opens in new tab) (ECM) may even be capable of confirm particulars in regards to the depth and saltiness of the ocean and the thickness of the ice shell by learning the magnetic subject that Jupiter’s large magnetosphere induced in Europa’s salty ocean. As Jupiter spins on its axis, so does the magnetosphere, and time variations within the magnetosphere have an effect on the induced magnetic subject in Europa. By probing these variations, the ECM group hopes to be taught one thing in regards to the ocean through which the magnetic subject is induced.
Equally, the Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (opens in new tab) (PIMS) will research how Europa interacts with Jupiter’s magnetosphere and the plasma (electrified gasoline) contained inside it. PIMS will search for the place Europa’s magnetic subject distorts the magnetosphere, in flip revealing extra in regards to the depth of the ocean, its conductivity and the thickness of the ice shell. (Europa’s magnetic subject will behave in a different way relying on the depth of the ocean.)
Along with sporting these devices, Europa Clipper will carry the Gravity/Radio Science (opens in new tab) experiment. Utilizing radio antennas on each Earth and Europa Clipper, scientists will be capable of measure Europa’s gravitational subject. They are going to do that by measuring how Jupiter’s gravity pulls and stretches on the form of Europa when it’s nearer to Jupiter in its elliptical orbit than when it’s farther away. The tidal forces that Europa experiences change the moon’s form barely, making it extra oblate, in addition to altering the form of Europa’s gravitational subject. By measuring how radio indicators are affected as they go by way of this shifting gravitational subject, scientists will higher perceive how a lot Europa’s inside flexes. The extra it flexes, the deeper the ocean and the thinner the ice shell have to be.
Will Europa Clipper discover life?
The quick reply is not any. The Europa Clipper mission’s overarching goal is to find out how liveable Europa’s ocean is. To seek out out whether it is truly inhabited would require a mission to land on the floor, drill by way of the ice shell and enter the ocean.
What are the science targets of the Europa Clipper mission?
(opens in new tab)
Europa Clipper has three science targets: to find out the thickness of the ice shell and learn the way a lot the ocean interacts with the floor; to research the composition of the ocean to determine if it actually does have the substances to kind and maintain life; and to map Europa’s geology, on the lookout for indicators of latest tectonic exercise, resurfacing or areas the place plumes of water vapor might be venting, which might inform us extra in regards to the depth of the ocean.
Planetary scientists suppose Europa’s ocean might comprise twice as a lot water (opens in new tab) as all of Earth’s oceans put collectively. In addition they suppose that, on the interface between Europa’s rocky core and the seafloor, there might be hydrothermal vents (opens in new tab) that act as an power supply for potential microbial life.
Europa’s airless floor is chilly, reaching about minus 225 levels Fahrenheit (minus 143 levels Celsius) at its equator at noon, and despite the fact that the ocean is hotter, the salt inside it acts as antifreeze. However Europa is assumed to have remained geologically steady for over 4 billion years, so regardless of the chilly circumstances, any potential life there would have had loads of time to develop and evolve.
Examine NASA’s different present mission to Jupiter, Juno, on the Juno mission web site (opens in new tab) from the Southwest Analysis Institute. There’s additionally one other mission headed to Jupiter and its icy moons, the European House Company’s (ESA) Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, which you’ll find out about on ESA’s JUICE mission web site (opens in new tab). Then, try this NASA story (opens in new tab) about how scientists are learning icy moons resembling Europa in chilly environments on Earth and studying the best way to drill by way of to underground lakes.
Comply with Keith Cooper on Twitter @21stCenturySETI (opens in new tab). Comply with us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Fb (opens in new tab).
Campagnola, S., Buffington, B. B., Lam, T., Petropoulos, A. E., & Pellegrini, E. (2019). Tour design strategies for the Europa Clipper mission. Journal of Steering, Management, and Dynamics, 42(12). https://doi.org/10.2514/1.G004309 (opens in new tab)
Laboratory for Atmospheric and House Physics on the College of Colorado Boulder. (n.d.). Europa Clipper. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://lasp.colorado.edu/dwelling/missions/europa-clipper/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2022, Could 11). Daytime temperatures on Europa. Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. https://europa.nasa.gov/sources/114/daytime-temperatures-on-europa/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Europa Clipper Magnetometer (ECM). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from
https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/ecm/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Europa Imaging System (EIS). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/eis/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/e-themis/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Europa Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Europa-UVS). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from
https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/europa-uvs/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Gravity/Radio Science. Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/gravity-radio-science/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/mise/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Mass Spectrometer for Planetary Exploration/Europa (MASPEX). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/maspex/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Meet Europa Clipper. Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from
https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/meet-europa-clipper/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from
https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/pims/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Radar for Europa Evaluation and Sounding: Ocean to Close to-surface (REASON). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/cause/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Floor Mud Analyzer (SUDA). Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from
https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/devices/suda/ (opens in new tab)
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (n.d.). Why Europa: Proof for an Ocean. Europa Clipper: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://europa.nasa.gov/why-europa/evidence-for-an-ocean/ (opens in new tab)
NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. (2018, September 12). Jupiter’s Magnetic Subject Visualization. Photo voltaic System Exploration: Our Galactic Neighborhood. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/sources/1054/jupiters-magnetic-field-visualization/ (opens in new tab)