The observed from the Hubble Space Telescope; and

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Last updated: May 24, 2019

The Europa Clippermission plans to send a vessel carrying nine scientific instruments into a wideorbit of the planet Jupiter in order to study one of Jupiter’s nine moons,Europa. In 2013, scientists observed what is thought to be water vapour plumingfrom the moon out into space, leading them to believe that this moon could be currentlygeologically active.1 The goal of the mission is to investigatewhether these theories are true by performing close flybys of Europa, gatheringand recording information on the far-off moon that is thought to have liquidwater hidden beneath its icy shell.1 The necessity for these flybys (as opposed to orbitingthe moon itself) comes from the radiation emanating from Jupiter that surroundsEuropa. If the orbiter were to orbit Europa instead of Jupiter, it would get “fried”by the high radiation levels.

3 This flyby method will allow the vessel togain large quantities of information over the course of several years. One of the goals of the EuropaClipper is to attempt to fly the orbiter through the “plumes” of water vapourthat were observed from the Hubble Space Telescope; and to test the propertiesof the particles it flies through.3 The initialplan is to perform forty to forty-five flybys of Europa, getting as close as 25kilometres and flying by as far as 2700 kilometres away from Europa’s surface.2During these flybys, the Europa Clipper will take photos of the moon’s surfacewith high-resolution cameras, use an ice-penetrating radar to determine howthick the ice is on the surface and use instruments to determine the strength anddirection of Europa’s magnetic field.2 The mission also plans tomeasure the gravity on Europa which will help scientists confirm definitively thatthere is a liquid water ocean underneath its icy shell. Measuring the strength anddirection of the magnetic field will help scientists know not only how deep theocean is but also how much salt is in it.

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2 The various instrumentswill work in tandem to paint a clearer picture of Europa, greatly helpingscientists consider future missions to Europa and providing them with importantinformation about this possibly geologically active moon that has the potentialto be applied to missions outside of the solar system. 

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