NASA’s Europa Clipper to probe habitability of Europa

Jupiter’s icy moon is of special interest as it hosts a liquid water ocean beneath its crust

March 10, 2017 10:58 pm | Updated March 11, 2017 02:01 pm IST - Washington

This NASA image obtained November 22, 2014 shows a global colour view of the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s.

This NASA image obtained November 22, 2014 shows a global colour view of the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s.

NASA’s ‘Europa Clipper’, set for launch in the 2020s, will probe the habitability of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

When the mission was still in the conceptual phase, it was informally called Europa Clipper, but NASA has now adopted that name as the formal title for the mission.

The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around the globe.

The mission plan includes 40 to 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon’s icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.

Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because it holds a salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust.

Is it habitable?

The ultimate aim of Europa Clipper is to determine if Europa is habitable, possessing all three of the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology.

“During each orbit, the spacecraft spends only a short time within the challenging radiation environment near Europa. It speeds past, gathers a huge amount of science data, then sails on out of there,” said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

 

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