Scientists have been searching for alien life on various planets since time immemorial. But have you ever thought that life could ever thrive on the moon of one of the planets of our solar system? To hunt for alien life, NASA will be launching ‘Europa Clipper’ in the 2020s in order to find if the icy moon of the Jupiter called Europa is habitable.
The mission was informally named Europa Clipper when it was still in its conceptual phase, but now NASA has adopted the name as the formal title for the mission.
The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of our planet Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness.
These ships were frequently used to ship shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around the globe.
The Europa Clipper in the grand tradition of these classic ships would sail past Europa at a rapid pace as frequently as every two weeks. Thus, it will provide several opportunities to probe the moon up close.
40 to 45 flybys will be carried out in the prime mission. The spacecraft would capture the icy surface of the moon at high resolution and will probe its composition and the structure of its interior icy shell.
A salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust makes Europa a high priority for exploration since long.
Europa Clipper’s main aim is to determine if Jupiter’s moon Europa is habitable and whether it possesses all three of the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology.
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“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 the US.
The mission is being planned for launch in the 2020s, arriving in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years.
(With inputs from PTI)