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Europa Clipper: NASA’s new mission to look for alien life on Jupiter’s icy moon

jupiterNew Delhi: NASA is sending a spacecraft to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa to investigate whether it possesses the ingredients necessary for life. The US space agency says the mission called the ‘Europa Clipper’ will be launched in the 2020s. When the mission was still in the conceptual phase, it was sometimes informally called Europa Clipper, but NASA has now adopted that name as the formal title for the mission. Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because it holds a salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust.  The ultimate aim of Europa Clipper is to determine if Europa is habitable, possessing all three of the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology. The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around the globe. In the grand tradition of these classic ships, the Europa Clipper spacecraft would sail past Europa at a rapid cadence, as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate the moon up close. The prime mission plan includes 40 to 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. “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, which is being planned for launch in the 2020s, will arrive in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years.

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