Mission to Europa
Scout Dahir | February 6th, 2024
Recently, I came across a post informing me about NASA’s “Message in a Bottle” campaign, allowing one to send their name to one of Jupiter’s moons. Just by traveling to NASA’s website, you can fill out a form with the promise that your name will be carved on a spacecraft traveling to Europa in the future.
What is Europa?
Jupiter has 95 known moons, with 12 being discovered just last year. Europa is one of them, and with its diameter of around 3100 km, it is barely smaller than our own moon. Europa is covered in a thick layer of ice with an expansive ocean lying beneath. Its size and bright appearance caused by the reflection of its icy surface make it one of Jupiter’s most visually stunning moons. Europa was discovered by Galileo in 1610, and its beautiful appearance and mysterious oceans have captivated scientists throughout the centuries.
Europa’s massive ocean has been the main interest of scientists seeking to discover additional places in our solar system capable of harboring life. On Earth, life relies on the presence of water to thrive. The existence of a large ocean gives scientists hope that life could have also formed on Europa. Though Europa’s thin atmosphere and cold surface seem impossible for sustaining or generating life, many theories exist about how the moon could have life-sustaining characteristics that lie just below its thick layer of ice. NASA’s Europa Clipper, launching in late 2024, seeks to analyze this distant moon to better understand what lies below Europa’s mysterious ocean.
What is Europa Clipper?
Europa Clipper is a spacecraft created specifically to collect data on Europa. Its journey to Europa will take around six years, using solar panels to maintain power throughout its journey. The spacecraft will gain momentum through “gravity assists” with Earth and Mars before reaching Jupiter.
Though the spacecraft will not be analyzing Europa until the 2030s, this endeavor is important as it allows NASA to unearth more information about Europa’s cryptic seas. Discovering features of the planet that could facilitate life may address current theories about the contents of its large ocean. Though Europa may seem like just a cold, icy moon of a planet hundreds of millions of miles away, its interesting composition and mysteries generate scientific wonder and curiosity.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Message in a Bottle.” Europa Clipper, https://europa.nasa.gov/message-in-a-bottle/sign-on/.
Mancini, Mark, and Desiree Bowie. “How Many Moons Does Jupiter Have? We’re Losing Count.” Howstuffworks, 23 Aug. 2023, https://science.howstuffworks.com/jupiter-have-79-moons-when-earth-just-has-one.htm
Propulsion Laboratory / National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “Europa.” NASA, https://science.nasa.gov/jupiter/moons/europa/. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.
Propulsion Laboratory / National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “Europa: Facts.” NASA, https://science.nasa.gov/jupiter/moons/europa/facts/. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.
Propulsion Laboratory / National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “Meet Europa Clipper.” Europa Clipper, https://europa.nasa.gov/spacecraft/meet-europa-clipper/. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Europa”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Nov. 2023, Https://www.Britannica.Com/Place/Europa-Satellite-of-Jupiter. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.