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The Europa Clipper
mission plans to send a vessel carrying nine scientific instruments into a wide
orbit of the planet Jupiter in order to study one of Jupiter’s nine moons,
Europa. In 2013, scientists observed what is thought to be water vapour pluming
from the moon out into space, leading them to believe that this moon could be
currently geologically active.1 The goal of the mission is to
investigate whether these theories are true by performing close flybys of
Europa, gathering and recording information on the far-off moon that is thought
to have liquid water hidden beneath its icy shell.1 The necessity for these flybys (as opposed to orbiting the
moon itself) comes from the radiation emanating from Jupiter that surrounds
Europa. If the orbiter were to orbit Europa instead of Jupiter, it would get
“fried” by the high radiation levels.3 This flyby method will allow the vessel to gain large
quantities of information over the course of several
years.

One
of the goals of the Europa Clipper is to attempt to fly the orbiter through the
“plumes” of water vapour that were observed from the Hubble Space Telescope,
and to test the properties of the particles it flies through.3 The initial plan is to perform forty to forty-five flybys of Europa,
getting as close as 25 kilometres and flying by as far as 2700 kilometres away
from Europa’s surface.2 During these flybys, the Europa Clipper will
take photos of the moon’s surface with high-resolution cameras, use an ice-penetrating
radar to determine how thick the ice is on the surface and use instruments to
determine the strength and direction of Europa’s magnetic field.2 The
mission also plans to measure the gravity on Europa which will help scientists
confirm definitively that there is a liquid water ocean underneath its icy
shell. Measuring the strength and direction of the magnetic field will help
scientists know not only how deep the ocean is but also how much salt is in it.2
The various instruments will work in tandem to paint a clearer picture of
Europa, greatly helping scientists consider future missions to Europa and providing
them with important information about this possibly geologically active moon
that has the potential to be applied to missions outside of our solar system.

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MISSION JUSTIFICATION
(300-350 words)

The
Europa Clipper mission is in line with our organization’s goals because it intends
to investigate whether Europa has the conditions necessary to support life and to
find out what natural resources (mainly water) could be available to us in the
future.

Water
is the main ingredient for life, whether that life is plant or animal; everything
needs water to survive. That’s why discovering whether Europa has liquid water
on it is so important, determining whether there is water on a planetary body is
absolutely necessary when looking at the potential for habitability. Investigating
the atmosphere and gravity of this far-off moon will help us plan future
missions to further understand Europa and its secrets. Knowing more about its
gravity and magnetosphere are important pieces in planning possible lander
missions to the moon, which will give us even more information about the
habitability and natural resources of Europa. By flying the Europa Clipper
through the plumes of possible water vapour, we will be able to test the
composition of the particles and hypothesize with more accuracy what forms of
life could be on Europa or that could be there in the future.

Europa
could even be currently supporting life. Previous missions in the area have
observed shifts in the icy shell and water vapour being released into space
which leads us to believe that there is volcanic activity under the ice;
volcanic activity that could be providing nutrients to tiny organisms right now.3 This volcanic
activity paired with the immense amount of water that is believed to be beneath
the surface is a very good indicator that Europa has the potential to support
life… whether that’s alien life or human life of the future remains to be seen.

 

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