We’re Going to Europa!

Radioing his final report, Professor Chang described his crew’s harrowing experience. He is the only surviving member, their spacecraft is destroyed, his space suit is nearly out of air.

This radio transmission was from the surface of Europa, in the book 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke, and movie based on Clarke’s book, titled 2010: The Year We Make Contact. That crew made contact, unfortunately. Even though that contact wasn’t the thrust of Clarke’s story it is huge, because lifeforms are discovered on another world. It links with the concept of a higher power at play, a power capable of creating a star from little old Jupiter. A star to transform Europa. We will not go into that here.

Europa is a water world, much it frozen as hard as granite, but with liquid far beneath the thick and craggy crust. We’ve deduced this since the Voyager spacecraft flew through the Jovian system, examining Europa’s magnetic field. It’s the magnetic field and gravity measurements that exposed Europa’s under ice ocean.  Arthur C. Clarke used this knowledge for his philosophical question in the follow up novel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The prospect of life on other worlds drives the impetus for continued exploration, so, we’re going to Europa! Not just Europa – Ganymede and Castillo in the Jovian system, Enceladus and Titan in the Saturn system, maybe Triton at Neptune. The common denominator – all but Titan are thought to have a liquid water ocean beneath an icy surface. That is tantalizing.

So, there are numerous missions either in the assembly phase or at least in the study phase. Three missions scheduled for or in the assembly phase are the Europa Clipper, JUICE, and Dragonfly.

JUICE (JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer) is ESA’s (European Space Agency) mission scheduled to launch in 2023. It will spend time studying Jupiter, and its icy moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, with a focus on Ganymede. Using a slew of instruments, it will examine Ganymede’s subsurface environment looking for liquid distribution, mass distribution, magnetic field, map its topography and study the ice crust.

Europa Clipper is NASA’s mission to Europa with a scheduled launch for 2024. Like JUICE, it will employ multiple instruments to confirm liquid oceans beneath the icy surface, characterize its chemistry, and examine the surface ices. It will also begin the process of identifying potential landing sites for future missions.

Dragonfly is NASA’s mission to continue exploring Saturn’s moon Titan, with a tentative launch scheduled for 2027. It is a different sort of craft, a lander-rover type using a dual-quadcopter that will be able to explore Titan’s varied environments. Its mission is to look for prebiotic chemical processes and characterize Titan’s chemical environments.

What’s in the Sky?

April 3-6; 9pm; west: Watch the waxing crescent Moon rise higher and higher into Taurus, getting pretty close to the Pleiades on the 4th.

April 5; 45 minutes before sunrise; southeast: Venus, Mars and Saturn are beautiful