Europa Mission - Search for life on Jupiter's Water Worlds
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Posted 07 February 2011 - 11:55 AM
With input from scientists around the world, American and European scientists working on the potential next new mission to the Jupiter system have announced their joint vision for the Europa Jupiter System Mission to explore "the emergence of habitable worlds around gas giants."
The proposed Europa Jupiter System Mission would provide orbiters around two of Jupiter's moons: a NASA orbiter around Europa called the Jupiter Europa Orbiter, and an ESA orbiter around Ganymede called the Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter.
"We've reached hands across the Atlantic to define a mission to Jupiter's water worlds," said Bob Pappalardo, the pre-project scientist for the proposed Jupiter Europa Orbiter, who is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The Europa Jupiter System Mission will create a leap in scientific knowledge about the moons of Jupiter and their potential to harbor life."
The new reports integrate goals that were being separately developed by NASA and ESA working groups into one unified strategy.
The proposed mission singles out the icy moons Europa and Ganymede as special worlds that can lead to a broader understanding of the Jovian system and of the possibility of life in our solar system and beyond. They are natural laboratories for analyzing the nature, evolution and potential habitability of icy worlds, because they are believed to present two different kinds of sub-surface oceans.
The Jupiter Europa Orbiter would characterize the relatively thin ice shell above Europa's ocean, the extent of that ocean, the materials composing its internal layers, and the way surface features such as ridges and "freckles" formed. It will also identify candidate sites for potential future landers. Instruments that might be on board could include a laser altimeter, an ice-penetrating radar, spectrometers that can obtain data in visible, infrared and ultraviolet radiation, and cameras with narrow- and wide-angle capabilities. The actual instruments to fly would be selected through a NASA competitive call for proposals.
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