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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Europa Bound

Europa Bound

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, February 3, 2015/Categories: natural history, space science, environment, adventure

Europa Clipper concept (credit: JPL/CalTech)

One of the most intriguing places in the solar system is the ice-covered moon of Jupiter, Europa. Tantalizing photographs captured by the Galileo spacecraft suggest an entire global ocean exists under its.cracked shell of water ice. A robotic mission to Europa has now been budgeted to design a spacecraft that would use various sensors and probes to create detailed maps of the moon's surface and interior.

The Jet Propulsion Lab at CalTech has had a design for a Europa probe on its drawing boards for some time. Called the  Europa Clipper , the spacecraft would go into orbit around Jupiter, not Europa, after a 3-year voyage and use the planet's gravity to swing by the moon 45 times getting as close as 16 miles above its surface.

                Europa global surface and close-up (photo credits: Galileo Mission   and JPL/CalTech)

While the spacecraft's design it not set, it would carry a diversity of instruments to investigate the icy moon. Radar would penetrate the ice to determine its thickness, a spectrograph could determine the chemistry of surface materials exuded from below, while efforts to measure salts in any ocean would inform the existence of a magnetic field around the moon. There are even hints of a geyser field spewing forth from the south pole that could finally be proven. A lander might even be envisioned to set down on the moon's surface for test further for the potential of life to have evolved there.

A group of futurist thinkers has reproduced an hour-long Europa presentation at JPL that shows what the excitement of the awaiting adventure is all about:

We're bound for Europa!


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