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  • richardmitnick 12:58 pm on December 5, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Icy Moons and Their Plumes", , , , , , Europa, , What is not at all common is liquid water   

    From Many Worlds: “Icy Moons and Their Plumes” 

    NASA NExSS bloc

    NASA NExSS

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    From Many Worlds

    December 5, 2019
    Marc Kaufman

    1
    The existence of water or water vapor plumes on Europa has been studied for years, with a consensus view that they do indeed exist. Now NASA scientists have their best evidence so far that the moon does sporadically send water vapor into its atmosphere. (NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI)

    Just about everything that scientists see as essential for extraterrestrial life — carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and sources of energy — is now known to be pretty common in our solar system and beyond. It’s basically there for the taking by untold potential forms of life.

    But what is not at all common is liquid water. Without liquid water Earth might well be uninhabited and today’s Mars, which was long ago significantly wetter, warmer and demonstrably habitable, is widely believed to be uninhabited because of the apparent absence of surface water (and all that deadly radiation, too.)

    This is a major reason why the discovery of regular plumes of water vapor coming out of the southern pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus has been hailed as such a promising scientific development.

    NASA’s Solar System Exploration. Color image of icy Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn

    The moon is pretty small, but most scientists are convinced it does have an under-ice global ocean that feeds the plume and just might support biology that could be collected during a flyby.

    But the moon of greatest scientific interest is Europa, one of the largest that orbits Jupiter.

    2
    Varied terrain on Europa. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

    It is now confidently described as having a sub-surface ocean below its crust of ice and — going back to science fiction writer extraordinaire Arthur C. Clarke — has often been rated the most likely body in our solar system to harbor extraterrestrial life.

    That is why it is so important that years of studying Europa for watery plumes has now paid off. While earlier observations strongly suggested that sporadic plumes of water vapor were in the atmosphere, only last month was the finding nailed, as reported in the journal Nature Astronomy.

    “While scientists have not yet detected liquid water directly, we’ve found the next best thing: water in vapor form,” said Lucas Paganini, a NASA planetary scientist who led the water detection investigation.

    3
    As this cutaway shows, vents in Europa’s icy crust could allow plumes of water vapor to escape from a sub-surface ocean. If observed up close, the chemical components of the plumes would be identified and could help explain the nature and history of the ocean below. ( NASA)

    The amount of water vapor found in the European atmosphere wasn’t great — about an Olympic-sized pool worth of H2O. Looking at the moon from the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the scientists saw water molecules on the side of Europa that’s always facing in the direction of the moon’s orbit around Jupiter.

    Keck Observatory, operated by Caltech and the University of California, Maunakea Hawaii USA, 4,207 m (13,802 ft)

    But Paganini’s team registered the faint signal of water vapor just once throughout 17 nights of observations between 2016 and 2017

    That fact, Paganini said in a release, was significant. “For me,” he said, “the interesting thing about this work is not only the first direct detection of water above Europa, but also the lack (of more plumes found) within the limits of our detection method.”

    More advanced detection equipment certainly might find much more water in the atmosphere, and that possibility is where Europa eclipses Enceladus as the icy moon most likely to give up some of its closest kept secrets in the near term.

    Because in the next five years or so, not one but two major missions are scheduled to head for Europa — NASA’s Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency-led JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission (JUICE.)

    NASA/Europa Clipper annotated

    ESA/Juice spacecraft depiction


    How the JUICE spacecraft will fly to the Jupiter system, using five gravity boosts along the way. (ESA)

    Although several missions have been proposed to return to Enceladus with more specialized instruments than the Cassini spacecraft had when it flew through a plumes in 2015, none have been formally approved and funded.

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    JUICE is scheduled to launch first to Europa — as early as 2022. Because it will need multiple gravity boosts from other bodies to reach the Jupiter system, it is not expected to arrive before the late 2020s.

    As for the Europa Clipper, the launch date remains uncertain but estimated to be in the mid 2020s. If it can use the NASA’s super-heavy Space Launch System (SLS) for its launch, it could reach Jupiter and Europa before JUICE. But because of endless delays with the SLS development, and the desire to use its unique lift power if and when it becomes available for launches to our moon and elsewhere, the Clipper may well launch on a commercial rocket and need the same time-consuming boosts.

    The Europa Clipper and JUICE missions are different in many ways, but they do have the same Jupiter system and Europa destinations and so are in a race of sorts to be the first to taste Europa’s atmosphere up close.

    It’s a cooperative race for sure — NASA does have an instrument planned to ride on the JUICE mission — but who gets there first will be of some space-faring importance just because Europa has long been such a promising destination for scientists.

    Some Europa background:

    Forty years ago, a Voyager spacecraft snapped the first closeup images of Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons.

    NASA/Voyager 2

    These revealed brownish cracks slicing the moon’s icy surface, which give Europa the look of an eyeball with criss-crossing veins. Missions to the outer solar system in the decades since have amassed enough additional information about Europa to make it a high-priority target of investigation in NASA’s search for life.

    For instance, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, measured perturbations in Jupiter’s magnetic field near Europa while orbiting the gas giant planet.

    NASA/Galileo 1989-2003

    The measurements, taken between 1995 and 2003, suggested to scientists that electrically conductive fluid, likely a salty ocean beneath Europa’s ice layer, was causing the magnetic disturbances. When researchers analyzed the magnetic disturbances more closely in 2018, they found evidence of possible plumes.

    In the meantime, scientists announced in 2013 that they had used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to detect the chemical elements hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) — components of water (H2O) — in plume-like configurations in Europa’s atmosphere. And a few years later, other scientists used Hubble to gather more evidence of possible plume eruptions when they snapped photos of finger-like projections that appeared in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.

    Lorenz Roth, an astronomer and physicist from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm who led the 2013 Hubble study and was a co-author of this recent investigation, said that detecting water vapor on other worlds is especially challenging.

    Existing spacecraft have limited capabilities to detect it, he said, and scientists using ground-based telescopes to look for water in deep space have to account for the distorting effect of water in Earth’s atmosphere. To minimize this effect, Paganini’s team used complex mathematical and computer modeling to simulate the conditions of Earth’s atmosphere so they could differentiate Earth’s atmospheric water from Europa’s in data returned by the Keck spectrograph.

    KECK Echellette Spectrograph and Imager (ESI)

    They used a spectrograph at the Keck Observatory that measures the chemical composition of planetary atmospheres through the infrared light they emit or absorb. Molecules such as water emit specific frequencies of infrared light as they interact with solar radiation.

    So while scientists had evidence that key ingredients for life, including liquid water, were present under Europa’s icy surface and that liquid geysers might sometimes erupt into the atmosphere, nobody had fully confirmed the presence of water in these plumes by directly measuring the water molecule itself. Until, that is, the recent confirmation by by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and their international partners.

    The recent finding of a plume of water vapor in the Europan atmosphere will help scientists better understand the inner workings of the moon. Any lingering doubts have been alleviated about the presence of a liquid water ocean, possibly twice as large as Earth’s, beneath this moon’s miles-thick ice shell. And clearly and importantly, conditions in the ocean would have to be changeable, in some flux, if water is periodically pushed up to the surface and into the atmosphere.

    There are, of course, other theories of the source of the Europa plumes. Another is that that the water and vapor comes from shallow reservoirs of melted water ice not far below Europa’s surface. It’s also possible that Jupiter’s strong radiation field is stripping water particles from Europa’s ice shell, though the recent investigation argued against this mechanism as the source of the observed water.

    As Avi Mandell, a Goddard planetary scientist on Paganini’s team, put it:. “Eventually, we’ll have to get closer to Europa to see what’s really going on.”

    So if Europa is getting all this attention, why are there no parallel big missions planned to Enceladus? After all, the plumes (or geysers) coming out of the moon are known to be consistent and substantial.

    One mission was proposed for last year’s NASA New Frontiers class competition and was well received but ultimately not selected. The German Space Agency has been studying an Enceladus mission since 2012 and Breakthrough Initiative founder Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire living in the United States, is working with a small NASA team on an simple, relatively inexpensive spacecraft to fly again through the plume and test for organic compounds and possibly by-products of biology.

    In effect, Milner and his colleagues believe the possibility of finding life on Enceladus is scientifically too tempting to wait for a full NASA effort — which appears unlikely while the costly Europa Clipper mission is under development.

    Briefly, the Enceladus geysers — which sometimes form a curtain of vapor –erupt from the moon’s south polar region. They were first interpreted as being the result of tidally produced pressure and heat in a subterranean sea, with fissures in the ice allowing the water and water vapor to escape. More recently, an even more intriguing source of the needed heat has been proposed.

    In 2017, an article in the journal Science by J. Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute et al reported that measurements taken during Cassini mission’s final fly-through captured the presence of molecular hydrogen in the plumes. To planetary and Earth scientists, that particular hydrogen presence quite clearly means that the water shooting out from Enceladus is coming from an interaction between water and warmed rock minerals at the bottom of the moon’s ocean– and possibly from within hydrothermal vents.

    These chimney-like vents at the bottom of our oceans — coupled with a chemical mixture of elements and organic compounds similar to what has been detected in the plumes — are known on Earth as prime breeding grounds for life. One important reason why is that the hydrogen and hydrogen compounds produced in these settings are a source of energy, or food, for microbes.

    A logical conclusion of these findings: the odds that Enceladus harbors forms of simple life increased with the finding, though remain impossible to quantify.

    Less is known about the composition of the apparently far more sporadic plumes of Europa, but JUICE and the Europa Clipper will — if they arrive successfully — change that. They too may find a chemical soup conducive to life, and similar signs of deep ocean interactions between the salty ocean and rock minerals heated hydrothermally, through radiation, tidal pressures or perhaps all of the above.

    And, no doubt, the precious water and water vapor in those plumes will be the gateway to their understandings.

    See the full article here .


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    About Many Worlds
    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:09 pm on November 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Oxygen and water showcase Mars Europa mysteries and struggles", , , , , Europa,   

    From NASA Spaceflight: “Oxygen and water showcase Mars, Europa mysteries and struggles” 

    NASA Spaceflight

    From NASA Spaceflight

    November 27, 2019
    Chris Gebhardt

    1

    Follow the water and the oxygen. Just two of the key tenets of humanity’s early and ongoing exploration drives within our solar system. That research has received huge boons in the last two decades with in-situ exploration of Titan and Enceladus by Cassini.

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    Saturn’s Moon Titan – Universe Today

    NASA’s Solar System Exploration. Color image of icy Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn

    But in the last three years, it has been NASA’s Curiosity rover in Gale Crater on Mars and a powerful telescope in Hawai’i that have given NASA scientists new insights – and questions – into the role of oxygen and water on Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa, respectively.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover

    NASA Europa

    That’s not how oxygen is supposed to behave:

    One of the significant benefits to the Curiosity rover’s multi Mars-year tenure has been its ability to monitor seasonal atmospheric changes on the Red Planet — something its SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) chemistry lab was – in part – designed to do.

    Over the last three Martian years (six Earth years), SAM has inhaled samples of the local Martian ground atmosphere, resulting in the first-ever measurement of seasonal changes in the gases directly above the surface of Gale Crater.

    In short, SAM returned results that the local Gale Crater atmosphere is, by volume, comprised of:

    95% carbon dioxide (CO2),
    2.6% molecular nitrogen,
    1.9% argon,
    0.16% molecular oxygen, and
    0.06% carbon monoxide.

    2
    Seasonal Oxygen levels observed b y Curiosity. Credit NASA

    These measurements have also revealed how the seasonal freezing of carbon dioxide at the poles in winter lowers the overall air pressure around the planet – air pressure that then rises in the Martian polar springs when the CO2 evaporates and redistributes in the atmosphere.

    The same results also show that the nitrogen and argon present in Mars’s atmosphere follow predictable and understood seasonal patterns.

    In this manner, scientists expected the oxygen present in the atmosphere to do the same, but it didn’t.

    Instead, the amount of oxygen rose unpredictably throughout spring and summer by as much as 30% before dropping back to levels predicted by known chemistry in fall.

    This pattern repeated each spring, though the amount of oxygen added to and taken from the atmosphere varied.

    “The first time we saw that, it was just mind boggling,” said Sushil Atreya, professor of climate and space sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor – co-author of a paper on this topic published on 12 November in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

    When the strange results were first observed, NASA scientists and engineers repeatedly checked to make sure SAM was functioning properly and not returning inaccurate readings. SAM was fine.


    Scientists then considered if CO2 and H2O could be releasing the oxygen – but there would have to be five times more water on Mars’ surface and in its atmosphere than is present to account for the oxygen level rises.

    They also considered if solar radiation could account for the oxygen’s rapid disappearance. But scientists found that it would take 10 years of solar radiation exposure to dissipate that much oxygen.

    “We’re struggling to explain this,” said Melissa Trainer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland who led this research. “The fact that the oxygen behavior isn’t perfectly repeatable every season makes us think that it’s not an issue that has to do with atmospheric dynamics. It has to be some chemical source and sink that we can’t yet account for.”

    However, scientists have noticed a seeming correlation between the oxygen rise and the seasonally observed rises of methane at Gale Crater.

    Methane is constantly in the air in extremely small quantities (0.00000004% on average). But SAM’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer revealed that while methane rises and falls seasonally, it increases in abundance by about 60% in summer months for inexplicable reasons.

    Could the spikes in methane and oxygen be related?

    “We’re beginning to see this tantalizing correlation between methane and oxygen for a good part of the Mars year,” Atreya said. “I think there’s something to it.”

    5

    Methane and oxygen rises certainly bring up the question of whether biologic or geologic processes are responsible for these seasonal variations.

    While biologic sources cannot be completely ruled out because Curiosity is not designed to investigate the current biological conditions at Gale Crater, scientists are working through the non-biologic potential answer to this quandary.

    “I just don’t have the answers yet,” said Atreya. “Nobody does.”

    Water water everywhere – Europa edition:

    Europa has, for several decades, been a tantalizing target in the search for potential life elsewhere in the solar system other than Earth.

    From the first direct images of the moon returned by NASA’s Voyager probes in the 1970s to present day observations, Europa has captivated scientific interest due to its icy exterior.

    Recent evidence has mounted for a large subterranean ocean underneath Europa’s icy surface, but direct confirmation of this has proven elusive – as has direct detection of water or water vapor in, on, or around Europa.

    Previous in-situ observations of the moon by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft from 1995 to 2003 and via the Hubble Space Telescope have returned evidence of hydrogen and oxygen in and around Europa, but no direct evidence of water.

    That is, until now.

    A team of NASA scientists led by Lucas Paganini of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, have announced the first concrete detection of water vapor spewing in volcanic eruptions from Europa’s large vents.

    The observations and confirmation came from the team’s use of the W. M. Keck Observatory atop the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawai’i.

    Keck Observatory, operated by Caltech and the University of California, Maunakea Hawaii USA, 4,207 m (13,802 ft)

    Paganini and his team’s findings are detailed in the 18 November publication of the journal Nature Astronomy.

    The observations, performed over 17 nights throughout 2016 and 2017, returned an immense amount of water vapor erupting from Europa’s surface at a rate of 2,360 kg per second – enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool within minutes.

    Despite this tremendous release, the team also found that water vapor appears quite infrequently.

    “For me, the interesting thing about this work is not only the first direct detection of water above Europa, but also the lack thereof within the limits of our detection method,” said Mr. Paganini.

    What’s more, the team was only able to detect water vapor along Europa’s leading hemisphere, defined as the side of the moon that always faces the direction of Europa’s orbit of Jupiter.

    Like Earth’s Moon, Europa is tidally locked with its host planet, so the same hemisphere always faces Jupiter.

    NASA/Europa Clipper annotated

    “This first direct identification of water vapor on Europa is a critical confirmation of our original detections of atomic species, and it highlights the apparent sparsity of large plumes on this icy world” said Lorenz Roth, an astronomer and physicist from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm who led the 2013 Hubble study and was a co-author of this recent investigation.

    This ultimately highlights the challenge in trying to study Europa from Earth. The amount of observation and detailed scientific equipment needed to further unlock Europa’s mysteries are either extremely difficult or not possible to do from Earth.

    Enter Europa Clipper, a flagship NASA science mission set to launch No Earlier Than 2025 that will perform direct, detailed observation and study of Jupiter’s icy moon.

    Europa Clipper’s three main scientific objectives are to:

    confirm the existence and characterize the nature of water within or beneath the ice and the processes of surface-ice-ocean exchange,
    identify the distribution and chemistry of key compounds and the links to ocean composition., and
    study the characteristics and formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity.

    See the full article here .

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    NASA Spaceflight , now in its eighth year of operations, is already the leading online news resource for everyone interested in space flight specific news, supplying our readership with the latest news, around the clock, with editors covering all the leading space faring nations.

    Breaking more exclusive space flight related news stories than any other site in its field, NASASpaceFlight.com is dedicated to expanding the public’s awareness and respect for the space flight industry, which in turn is reflected in the many thousands of space industry visitors to the site, ranging from NASA to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Space Alliance and commercial space flight arena.

    With a monthly readership of 500,000 visitors and growing, the site’s expansion has already seen articles being referenced and linked by major news networks such as MSNBC, CBS, The New York Times, Popular Science, but to name a few.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:05 am on May 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Europa, Europa is venting water into space, , old spacecraft data suggest,   

    From Science Magazine: “Europa is venting water into space, old spacecraft data suggest” 

    AAAS
    From Science Magazine

    1
    NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI

    May. 14, 2018
    Paul Voosen

    The Galileo spacecraft may be dead, but it still has stories to tell. Fifteen years after the NASA probe burned up in Jupiter’s atmosphere, newly analyzed magnetic and plasma data from the mission have bolstered evidence that Europa, the planet’s ice-bound moon, is likely venting water into space.

    NASA/Galileo 1989-2003

    Researchers have long believed that Europa is home to a vast saltwater ocean, trapped beneath a thick crust of ice, making the moon potentially habitable for life and a focus of upcoming robotic exploration. Over the past decade, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have made observations that seemed to support the notion that Europa is venting some of this water to space, much like Saturn’s moon Enceladus. But many other attempted observations have turned up dry.

    So scientists instead returned to Galileo, which on 16 December 1997 made its closest approach to Europa, flying only 400 kilometers above its surface. Over the course of 5 minutes, spikes the spacecraft recorded with its magnetic and plasma sensors reflected the alterations that a veil of ejected water, from one or many vents, could cause in a region matching the telescope observations, they report today in Nature Astronomy. This indicates that a region of the moon potentially 1000 kilometers long could host such activity, though it is impossible to say whether this is a single plume or many, like the complex system of fractures and vents seen on Enceladus. Indeed, on its own, this evidence was too weak to tie to erupting water in a 2001 study describing it, the authors add, but it fits well with the Hubble and modeled evidence.

    NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft, set for launch as soon as 2022, will carry several instruments capable of capturing and analyzing plume ingredients.

    NASA/Europa Clipper

    If such an eruption does exist, it will make exploration of the ocean dramatically easier. The mission’s primary sponsor in Congress, Representative John Culberson (R–TX), could not hold back his glee last week in a hearing for a spending bill that supported the mission—breaking the journal’s embargo in the process: “The science community has wanted to go there for years, Mr. Chairman,” Culberson said, “and this bill makes that happen.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:18 pm on December 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 2015 Axial Seamount eruption, , Europa, Plumes of water,   

    From SA: “Plumes Spotted on Europa Suggest Easy Access to Water” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    12.13.16
    Lee Billings

    1
    Credit: COURTESY OF NASA, ESA AND KURT RETHERFORD Southwest Research Institute

    An ocean within Jupiter’s icy moon Europa may be intermittently venting plumes of water vapor into outer space, according to a new study in the Astrophysical Journal. The finding suggests the ocean, thought to lie underneath perhaps 100 kilometers of ice, may be more amenable to life—and more accessible to curious astrobiologists—than previously thought. “If there are plumes emerging from Europa, it is significant because it means we may be able to explore that ocean for organic chemistry or even signs of life without having to drill through unknown miles of ice,” says study lead William Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. The plumes would also suggest a potent source of heat lurking within Europa that could sustain living things.

    With the help of the Hubble Space Telescope’s imaging spectrograph, Sparks and his team observed Europa 10 times between late 2013 and early 2015 as it crossed the face of Jupiter. Watching in ultraviolet light, in which Europa’s icy surface appears dark, they looked for silhouettes of any plumes contrasted against Jupiter’s bright, smooth cloudscapes. Intensive image processing unveiled what looked like three instances of ultraviolet shadows soaring over the southern edge of Europa’s dark bulk. If the shadows were produced by plumes and not glitches in Hubble’s instruments, they would collectively contain an estimated few million kilograms of water and reach about 200 kilometers above Europa’s surface.

    Sparks acknowledges that his team’s results remain frustratingly hazy. “These observations are at the limit of what Hubble can do,” he says. “We do not claim to have proven the existence of plumes but rather to have contributed evidence that such activity may be present.” Previous evidence of similar plumes was reported in 2014 in Science, but after follow-up observations, those water vapor spouts seemed to have stopped—or were not there in the first place. In that regard, “this [new observation] is exactly as likely as the last detections” to be real, says Britney Schmidt, who is a planetary scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology and was not involved with the research.

    Such caution is justified—the presence (or absence) of Europa’s plumes could profoundly alter the future of interplanetary exploration, redirecting billions of dollars in funding toward new exploratory missions. NASA and the European Space Agency already aim to lead missions to the tantalizing Jovian moon in the 2020s.

    Science paper:
    Seismic constraints on caldera dynamics from the 2015 Axial Seamount eruption, Science

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:08 am on June 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Europa,   

    From JPL: “All Systems Go for NASA’s Mission to Jupiter Moon Europa” 

    JPL

    June 17, 2015
    Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

    Elizabeth Landau / Preston Dyches
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425 / 818-354-7013
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov / preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    Artist concept of NASA’s Europa mission spacecraft approaching its target for one of many flybys. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Beyond Earth, Jupiter’s moon Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of present-day life, and a new NASA mission to explore this potential is moving forward from concept review to development.

    NASA’s mission concept — to conduct a detailed survey of Europa and investigate its habitability — has successfully completed its first major review by the agency and now is entering the development phase known as formulation.

    “Today we’re taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.”

    NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter in the late 1990s produced strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath its frozen crust.

    NASA Galileo
    Galileo

    If proven to exist, this global ocean could hold more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa may have the ingredients needed to support simple organisms.

    The mission plan calls for a spacecraft to be launched to Jupiter in the 2020s, arriving in the distant planet’s orbit after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit the giant planet about every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa. The mission plan includes 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon’s icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been assigned the responsibility of managing the project. JPL has been studying the multiple-flyby mission concept, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, since 2011.

    Instruments selected for the Europa mission’s scientific payload were announced by NASA on May 26. Institutions supplying instruments include APL; JPL; Arizona State University, Tempe; the University of Texas at Austin; Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio; and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    “It’s a great day for science,” said Joan Salute, Europa program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are thrilled to pass the first major milestone in the lifecycle of a mission that will ultimately inform us on the habitability of Europa.”

    NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system and the universe. The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

    For more information about NASA’s mission to Europa, visit:
    http://www.nasa.gov/europa

    See the full article here.

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    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 4:35 pm on May 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Europa,   

    From JPL: “NASA’s Europa Mission Begins with Selection of Science Instruments” 

    JPL

    May 26, 2015
    Preston Dyches
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-7013
    preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov

    Dwayne Brown
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    NASA Europa
    This artist’s rendering shows a concept for a future NASA mission to Europa in which a spacecraft would make multiple close flybys of the icy Jovian moon, thought to contain a global subsurface ocean. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA has selected nine science instruments for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

    NASA’s Galileo mission yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness.

    NASA Galileo
    Galileo

    If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.

    “Europa has tantalized us with its enigmatic icy surface and evidence of a vast ocean, following the amazing data from 11 flybys of the Galileo spacecraft over a decade ago and recent Hubble observations suggesting plumes of water shooting out from the moon,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We’re excited about the potential of this new mission and these instruments to unravel the mysteries of Europa in our quest to find evidence of life beyond Earth.”

    NASA’s fiscal year 2016 budget request includes $30 million to formulate a mission to Europa. The mission would send a solar-powered spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around the gas giant Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of Europa over a three-year period. In total, the mission would perform 45 flybys at altitudes ranging from 16 miles to 1,700 miles (25 kilometers to 2,700 kilometers).

    The payload of selected science instruments includes cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface and determine its composition. An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica. The mission also will carry a magnetometer to measure strength and direction of the moon’s magnetic field, which will allow scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean.

    A thermal instrument will scour Europa’s frozen surface in search of recent eruptions of warmer water, while additional instruments will search for evidence of water and tiny particles in the moon’s thin atmosphere. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the south polar region of Europa in 2012, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes. If the plumes’ existence is confirmed – and they’re linked to a subsurface ocean – it will help scientists investigate the chemical makeup of Europa’s potentially habitable environment while minimizing the need to drill through layers of ice.

    Last year, NASA invited researchers to submit proposals for instruments to study Europa. Thirty-three were reviewed and, of those, nine were selected for a mission that will launch in the 2020s.

    “This is a giant step in our search for oases that could support life in our own celestial backyard,” said Curt Niebur, Europa program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re confident that this versatile set of science instruments will produce exciting discoveries on a much-anticipated mission.”

    The NASA selectees are:

    Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) — principal investigator Dr. Joseph Westlake of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland. 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 Dr. Carol Raymond of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. Jack (Hunter) Waite of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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.

    Separate from the selectees listed above, the SPace Environmental and Composition Investigation near the Europan Surface (SPECIES) instrument has been chosen for further technology development. Led by principal investigator Dr. Mehdi Benna at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, this combined neutral mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph will be developed for other mission opportunities.

    NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system and the universe.

    For more information about Europa, visit:

    http://go.nasa.gov/europanews

    See the full article here.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 1:53 pm on May 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Europa,   

    From JPL: “NASA Research Reveals Europa’s Mystery Dark Material Could Be Sea Salt” 

    JPL

    May 12, 2015
    Media Contact
    Preston Dyches
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-7013
    preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov

    Dwayne Brown
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    1
    A “Europa-in-a-can” laboratory setup at NASA-JPL mimics conditions of temperature, near vacuum and heavy radiation on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    2
    A close-up of salt grains discolored by radiation following exposure in a “Europa-in-a-can” test setup at JPL. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    3
    A salt sample inside a JPL test chamber is bathed in an eerie blue glow as an electron beam scans across it many times each second, delivering a powerful dose of radiation. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    4
    After tens of hours of exposure to Europa-like conditions, sodium chloride samples turned a yellowish-brown color. The color is spectrally similar to that of dark features on Europa imaged by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA laboratory experiments suggest the dark material coating some geological features of Jupiter’s moon Europa is likely sea salt from a subsurface ocean, discolored by exposure to radiation. The presence of sea salt on Europa’s surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor — an important consideration in determining whether the icy moon could support life.

    The study is accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and is available online.

    “We have many questions about Europa, the most important and most difficult to answer being is there life? Research like this is important because it focuses on questions we can definitively answer, like whether or not Europa is inhabitable,” said Curt Niebur, Outer Planets Program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Once we have those answers, we can tackle the bigger question about life in the ocean beneath Europa’s ice shell.”

    For more than a decade, scientists have wondered about the nature of the dark material that coats long, linear fractures and other relatively young geological features on Europa’s surface. Its association with young terrains suggests the material has erupted from within Europa, but with limited data available, the material’s chemical composition has remained elusive.

    “If it’s just salt from the ocean below, that would be a simple and elegant solution for what the dark, mysterious material is,” said research lead Kevin Hand, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    One certainty is that Europa is bathed in radiation created by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field. Electrons and ions slam into the moon’s surface with the intensity of a particle accelerator. Theories proposed to explain the nature of the dark material include this radiation as a likely part of the process that creates it.

    Previous studies using data from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, and various telescopes*, attributed the discolorations on Europa’s surface to compounds containing sulfur and magnesium. While radiation-processed sulfur accounts for some of the colors on Europa, the new experiments reveal that irradiated salts could explain the color within the youngest regions of the moon’s surface.

    NASA Galileo
    Galileo

    To identify the dark material, Hand and his co-author Robert Carlson, also at JPL, created a simulated patch of Europa’s surface in a laboratory test apparatus for testing possible candidate substances. For each material, they collected spectra — which are like chemical fingerprints — encoded in the light reflected by the compounds.

    “We call it our ‘Europa in a can,'” Hand said. “The lab setup mimics conditions on Europa’s surface in terms of temperature, pressure and radiation exposure. The spectra of these materials can then be compared to those collected by spacecraft and telescopes.”

    For this particular research, the scientists tested samples of common salt — sodium chloride — along with mixtures of salt and water, in their vacuum chamber at Europa’s chilly surface temperature of minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 Celsius). They then bombarded the salty samples with an electron beam to simulate the intense radiation on the moon’s surface.

    After a few tens of hours of exposure to this harsh environment, which corresponds to as long as a century on Europa, the salt samples, which were initially white just like table salt, turned a yellowish-brown color similar to features on the icy moon. The researchers found the color of these samples, as measured in their spectra, showed a strong resemblance to the color within fractures on Europa that were imaged by NASA’s Galileo mission.

    “This work tells us the chemical signature of radiation-baked sodium chloride is a compelling match to spacecraft data for Europa’s mystery material,” Hand said.

    Additionally, the longer the samples were exposed to radiation, the darker the resulting color. Hand thinks scientists could use this type of color variation to help determine the ages of geologic features and material ejected from any plumes that might exist on Europa.

    Previous telescope observations have shown tantalizing hints of the spectral features seen by the researchers in their irradiated salts. But no telescope on or near Earth can observe Europa with sufficiently high resolving power to identify the features with certainty. The researchers suggest this could be accomplished by future observations with a spacecraft visiting Europa.

    JPL built and managed NASA’s Galileo mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, and is developing a concept for a future mission to Europa. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

    For more information about Europa, visit:

    http://europa.jpl.nasa.gov

    *unfortunately, the wrtiers did not give proper credit to the “various telescopes” involved.

    See the full article here.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 8:28 am on May 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Europa,   

    From ESA: “Chaos on a watery world” 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    11/05/2015
    No Writer Credit

    1

    Jupiter’s moon Europa is brimming with water. Although it is thought to be mostly made up of rocky material, the moon is wrapped in a thick layer of water – some frozen to form an icy crust, some potentially pooled in shallow underground lakes or layers of slush, and vast quantities more lurking even deeper still in the form of a giant subsurface ocean.

    This false-colour image from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft shows a disrupted part of Europa’s crust known as Conamara Chaos.

    NASA Galileo
    NASA/Galileo

    The long criss-crossing grooves etched into the shattered chunks of ice are a perfect example of “chaos terrain” – a feature seen most prominently in our Solar System on Europa, Mars and Mercury.

    Although the exact ways chaos regions form are not completely understood, in the case of Europa scientists have a few ideas. One possibility is fast-moving impactors that smash through the moon’s brittle crust. As a liquid layer lies immediately beneath the crust, the shards are more mobile and can refreeze in different configurations, creating a fractured terrain with young scars carved into the icy plains.

    Many chaos regions have small impact craters clustered nearby. In the case of Conamara Chaos, for example, a large 26 km-diameter crater named Pwyll lies 1000 km to the south, and a handful of smaller, 500 m-diameter craters are scattered throughout the region, likely formed by lumps of ice thrown up by the impact that created Pwyll.

    1
    This enhanced color image of the region surrounding the young impact crater Pwyll on Jupiter’s moon Europa was produced by combining low resolution color data with a higher resolution mosaic of images obtained on December 19, 1996 by the Solid State Imaging (CCD) system aboard NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. This region is on the trailing hemisphere of the satellite, centered at 11 degrees South and 276 degrees West, and is about 1240 kilometers across. North is toward the top of the image, and the sun illuminates the surface from the east.

    Another suggestion is that Europa harbours an intricate system of shallow subsurface lakes. Instead of an object slamming into the Jovian moon, a lake system could influence and stress the crust from below to cause the thin ice sheets to fracture and collapse.

    This patch of Europa’s crust takes on an iridescent appearance in this false-colour image, which strongly enhances subtle colour differences present in the scene. Areas of blue and white stand out distinctly from areas of rusty orange and bronze. This colouration is thought to be caused by material from Pwyll: when the crater formed it threw up a blanket of fine ice particles that settled over parts of Conamara Chaos, colouring parts of the landscape in dark blue (coarser particles of ice), light blue (smaller particles) and white (very fine particles). The bronze patches are regions of ice that have been stained by minerals from beneath the disrupted crust.

    Although astronomers have studied Europa intensively, the only way to confirm the structure and composition of the moon is to probe its shell and interior with a space probe. ESA’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (Juice) mission aims to do just that when it arrives in the Jovian system in 2030.

    ESA JUICE
    ESA/JUICE

    Alongside detailed studies of Jupiter itself, Juice will explore and characterise three of the gas giant’s potentially habitable icy moons: Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. The mission is in development, on track for launch in 2022.

    North is to the top of the picture and the Sun illuminates the surface from the right side of the frame. The image is centred at 9ºN / 274ºW, and covers an area of some 70 km by 30 km. The image combines data taken by Galileo’s Solid State Imaging system during three orbits through the Jovian system in 1996 and 1997.

    See the full article here.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 8:03 pm on February 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Europa,   

    From WIRED: “The White House Wants to Go to Europa” 

    Wired logo

    Wired

    02.04.15
    Marcus Woo

    1
    The blue and white areas on Europa’s surface are close to pure water ice. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

    Earlier this week the White House made public its budget requests for 2016. It’s a little bit of Washington kabuki—Congress always adjusts the budget one way or the other. But buried inside the $18.5 billion budget request for NASA was an interesting tidbit: $30 million for a mission to the Jovian moon Europa, every space nerd’s favorite target in the search for extraterrestrial life.

    In other words, if this new funding goes through, it’ll mean that NASA is finally, officially onboard with a mission to the ice-crusted world where alien monoliths took over in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010. In other other words: Let’s go to Europa! “This is a big deal,” says Casey Dreier, the director of advocacy at the Planetary Society, which has been lobbying for this mission for more than 15 years. “This budget basically fills in the missing piece that will enable this mission to go forward.” The new budget request also says that the White House plans to ask for even more money in the next few years, and because the mission is now an official project, says Dreier, civil servants can work on it and NASA can start making long-term contracts for further planning.

    So what would the mission look like? Europa’s icy shell gives it the smoothest surface of any world in the solar system. But shifting cracks and other evidence suggest that that below that frozen surface lies an ocean—a watery one. And where there’s water, life may follow. Researchers have wanted to get there for decades—the current best idea for how is a 15-year-old concept called the Europa Clipper. “What we’ve been looking at is a multiple flyby mission,” says Bob Pappalardo, the mission’s project scientist. Under the current plan, a spacecraft will orbit Jupiter, not Europa—but it’ll zip past the moon 45 times in three years—venturing as close as 16 miles to the surface every couple of weeks.

    Scientists are still hashing out what kinds of instruments will be onboard, so Pappalardo can’t say which exact ones will end up going to Europa. But one of the main goals will be to measure the moon’s magnetic field, which would tell scientists how salty the subsurface ocean is. Dissolved minerals (like salt) allow the ocean to conduct electricity—which means it’d have a magnetic field a sensor could read. Or more speculatively, in 2013 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted what looked like 125-mile high geysers spewing water from Europa’s south pole. Maybe a probe could actually fly through one and sample the water. Radar could reveal how thick the frozen crust is, and other instruments could measure the chemicals in Europa’s wispy atmosphere. High-resolution cameras will take pictures of the cracks that crisscross the surface, hoping to figure out whether it’s actually the case that the ice flexes and breaks because of that still-hypothetical ocean. And they’ll also scope out possible spots to send a future lander.

    That’s the real brass ring, of course—if you want to find aliens. “If someone comes up with a clever way to point to life with multiple flybys, that will be wonderful,” Pappalardo says. “But that will probably take going to the surface.” That’s why Earthbound experiments like the work at Lake Vostok in Antarctica are so interesting to planetary scientists—cracking through 2.5 miles of ice to get to a liquid lake below without contaminating it may turn out to be highly relevant expertise someday.

    When that’ll happen, though, is another question. The price tag for something Europa Clipper-like looks to be about $2 billion, so it’ll take a few more years of budgets to get it all together. A mission with a lander would be much more expensive. An orbiter might still be a possibility, but “it’s a riskier and more expensive approach than making many flybys,” Pappalardo says. It would take a year and a half after arriving at Jupiter just to get into Europa’s orbit, requiring lots more fuel and exposing the spacecraft to radiation that could fry its instruments.

    However the details turn out, a Europa mission could launch as soon as the mid-2020s, said David Radzanowski, NASA’s chief financial officer, in a press briefing on Monday. Which means it won’t actually get to Europa until around 2030. But if all goes as planned, those 15 years will fly right by.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:04 pm on November 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Europa,   

    From SPACE.com: “o Europa! Mission to Jupiter’s Moon Gains Support in Congress” 

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    SPACE.com

    November 05, 2014
    Nola Taylor Redd

    Scientists who want to explore Jupiter’s ocean-harboring moon Europa have some allies in high places. Several influential congresspeople are among those calling for a mission to Europa, which is regarded by many scientists as the best place to search for life beyond Earth. “We don’t need to wait to go find life in another solar system,” Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, said in July. “It’s right here in our own backyard.”

    j
    Some members of Congress want NASA to explore Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, perhaps the solar system’s best bet to host alien life.
    Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

    ‘Defining moment in our lifetime’

    Culberson spoke at “The Lure of Europa,” a public meeting organized in Washington, D.C., by nonprofit group The Planetary Society.

    His words came just one day after NASA scientist Kevin Hand stated at a public NASA forum that he thought humans would find life in the universe in the next two decades, and on the same day that NASA released its call for scientific instruments for a planned Europa mission.

    Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee, kicked things off at “The Lure of Europa” by wishing the world could see how excited attendees were about the Jupiter moon. Some members of the audience remained standing, while others sat on the floor.

    “There is a general apparent interest in the subject of space in the American people,” Smith said.

    He went on to discuss the special interest people have in exoplanets, particularly Earth-like planets, with an even keener emphasis on finding Earth-like planets that might have indications of life.

    “Just the mere idea of the forms of those lives is enough to keep us exploring for several years,” Smith said.

    Culberson called the future discovery of extraterrestrial life “the defining moment in our lifetime.” “It will define our civilization,” he said.

    r
    Reddish bands on Europa indicate regions of ice mixed with hydrated salts, while the blue-white terrain is relatively pure water-ice.
    Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
    View full size image

    Europa is a particularly good place to hunt for potential alien life, Culberson added. Scientists think that, beneath its icy crust, Europa contains three to four times more water than Earth does, and that its seafloor may be heated by geologic activity. Radiation from Jupiter helps produce some of the chemicals required for life on the moon’s surface.

    Recently, scientists discovered geysers in Europa’s southern hemisphere — a finding that could potentially allow for the exploration of the underground ocean without the need to pierce the icy crust.

    In 2013, the U.S. National Research Council’s Planetary Science Decadal Review issued its 10-year recommendation for planetary exploration for NASA and the National Science Foundation. The report ranked an exploration of Europa as the highest-priority mission. Past budget cuts had endangered funding for studying the Jovian moon — a problem that the representatives hope to rectify in the future.

    “It’s our job to make sure there’s enough funding to fund these exciting missions,” Culberson said, referring to his role as a member of the House Committee on Appropriations.

    Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is also on the House Committee on Appropriations, spoke at the “Lure of Europa” event as well.

    “It’s clearly a priority for us, and will continue to be a priority for us,” he said, referring to the long-standing interest in Jupiter’s icy moon.

    r
    Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, has a passion for exploring Europa.
    Credit: Nola Taylor Redd

    Schiff’s district is home to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the lead NASA center for building and operating robotic planetary explorers, including the Mars rover Curiosity.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    Curiosity

    Congress allocated NASA $155 million over the last two years to study a possible mission to Europa, and the White House allocated $15 million toward this end in its 2015 federal budget request. NASA officials say they hope to launch a roughly $1 billion Europa mission in the mid-2020s or so.

    Supporting the mission

    NASA’s current plans consist of launching a probe that will do multiple flybys, as there is not yet enough data to select a safe landing site on the moon. This initial mission could help pave the way to put a probe down on Europa someday, NASA officials say.

    “We have a lot more challenges on the way to Europa, both here and in space,” Schiff warned.

    But overcoming those challenges could result in exciting discoveries, he added.

    “I don’t know what we’ll find there, but I know it will be amazing,” Schiff said of Europa.

    Culberson added that the taxpayers who fund the exploration of Europa will play a role in the results — a responsibility that will be especially important if scientists find life on Europa.

    “[Imagine if] we had some role, some part to play in finding life on another world and changing mankind for the better,” Culberson said. “What better legacy could we possibly leave?”

    See the full article here.

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