Europa, frozen moon of Jupiter, might hold vast oceans and even life. NASA has OK'd a fleet of instruments aimed at exposing her secrets.
Europa could hold twice as much water as the Earth -- and be home to life. (Image: NASA)
NASA is trekking toward the answer to one of science’s most intriguing questions: Are humans truly alone in our solar system?
The tools to chart the moon
- Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) -- principal investigator Joseph Westlake of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. This instrument works in conjunction with a magnetometer and is key to determining Europa's ice shell thickness, ocean depth and salinity by correcting the magnetic induction signal for plasma currents around Europa.
- Interior Characterization of Europa using Magnetometry (ICEMAG) -- principal investigator Carol Raymond of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. This magnetometer will measure the magnetic field near Europa and -- in conjunction with the PIMS instrument -- infer the location, thickness and salinity of Europa’s subsurface ocean using multi-frequency electromagnetic sounding.
- Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) -- principal investigator Diana Blaney of JPL. This instrument will probe the composition of Europa, identifying and mapping the distributions of organics, salts, acid hydrates, water ice phases and other materials to determine the habitability of Europa’s ocean.
- Europa Imaging System (EIS) -- principal investigator Elizabeth Turtle of APL. The wide and narrow angle cameras on this instrument will map most of Europa at 50 meter (164 foot) resolution, and will provide images of areas of Europa’s surface at up to 100 times higher resolution.
- Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON) -- principal investigator Donald Blankenship of the University of Texas, Austin. This dual-frequency ice penetrating radar instrument is designed to characterize and sound Europa's icy crust from the near-surface to the ocean, revealing the hidden structure of Europa’s ice shell and potential water within.
- Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) -- principal investigator Philip Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe. This “heat detector” will provide high spatial resolution, multi-spectral thermal imaging of Europa to help detect active sites, such as potential vents erupting plumes of water into space.
- MAss SPectrometer for Planetary EXploration/Europa (MASPEX) -- principal investigator Jack (Hunter) Waite of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas. This instrument will determine the composition of the surface and subsurface ocean by measuring Europa’s extremely tenuous atmosphere and any surface material ejected into space.
- Ultraviolet Spectrograph/Europa (UVS) -- principal investigator Kurt Retherford of SwRI. This instrument will adopt the same technique used by the Hubble Space Telescope to detect the likely presence of water plumes erupting from Europa’s surface. UVS will be able to detect small plumes and will provide valuable data about the composition and dynamics of the moon’s rarefied atmosphere.
- SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA) -- principal investigator Sascha Kempf of the University of Colorado, Boulder. This instrument will measure the composition of small, solid particles ejected from Europa, providing the opportunity to directly sample the surface and potential plumes on low-altitude flybys.
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