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posted by martyb on Saturday June 13 2015, @12:31PM   Printer-friendly
from the Do-NOT-go-there dept.

Nine science instruments were selected to fly on the NASA mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. The instruments will study the moon from its atmosphere to its subsurface. The instruments are (as copied from the NASA press release):

  • 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.

Original Submission

Related Stories

Amino Acids Could Exist Just Centimeters Under Europa's Surface 15 comments

Europa Lander May Not Have to Dig Deep to Find Signs of Life

If signs of life exist on Jupiter's icy moon Europa, they might not be as hard to find as scientists had thought, a new study reports. [...] NASA aims to hunt for such samples in the not-too-distant future. The agency is developing a flyby mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early 2020s. Clipper will study Europa up close during dozens of flybys, some of which might be able to zoom through the moon's suspected water-vapor plumes. And NASA is also working on a possible post-Clipper lander mission that would search for evidence of life at or near the Europan surface.

It's unclear, however, just how deep a Europa lander would need to dig to have a chance of finding anything. That's because Europa orbits within Jupiter's radiation belts and is bombarded by fast-moving charged particles, which can turn amino acids and other possible biosignatures into mush.

That's where the new study comes in. NASA scientist Tom Nordheim and his colleagues modeled Europa's radiation environment in detail, laying out just how bad things get from place to place. They then combined these results with data from laboratory experiments documenting how quickly various radiation doses carve up amino acids (a stand-in here for complex biomolecules in general).

The researchers found significant variation, with some Europan locales (equatorial regions) getting about 10 times the radiation pounding of others (middle and high latitudes). At the most benign spots, the team determined, a lander would likely have to dig just 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) or so into the ice to find recognizable amino acids. In the high-blast zones, the target depth would be on the order of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm). (This is not to imply that potential Europan organisms would still be alive at such depths, however; doses there are high enough to cook even the hardiest Earth microbes, study team members said.)

Also at Motherboard and Gizmodo.

Preservation of potential biosignatures in the shallow subsurface of Europa (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0499-8) (DX)

Biosignature hide and seek (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0542-9) (DX)

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 13 2015, @01:55PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 13 2015, @01:55PM (#195773)

    to see if they could get some bites?

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Saturday June 13 2015, @03:12PM

    by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <> on Saturday June 13 2015, @03:12PM (#195790) Homepage Journal

    I remember this vividly, was it 1976 or 1977? I was just a little kid but my dad was a grad student so I hung out at the University of Idaho all the time, as well as spent a lot of time talking to the students.

    Everyone hoped they would find life but no it was not to be.

    Many years later I learned that NASA rejected an instrument that, had it been included, could have found life despite that the other instruments did not.

    The principal scientist behind that instruments that could have but was not chosen went on to commit suicide.

    It's gotta be rough.

    Yes I Have No Bananas. []
    • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Saturday June 13 2015, @03:24PM

      by kaszz (4211) on Saturday June 13 2015, @03:24PM (#195796) Journal

      The principal scientist behind that instruments that could have but was not chosen went on to commit suicide.

      What kind of science instrument were that? And have history proven that it wouldn't have found anything anyway?

      I suspect the feeling of being skipped and perhaps without funding or tenure might have a play in his suicide?

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Saturday June 13 2015, @03:37PM

        by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <> on Saturday June 13 2015, @03:37PM (#195800) Homepage Journal

        No if our present mars rovers haven't found life, his instrument would not have either.

        What the viking instruments found was some signal but not life; given that it was widely thought that this poor bastard's instrument would have found the life they thought was there at the time, but that the later rovers did not.

        Yes I Have No Bananas. []
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by kurenai.tsubasa on Saturday June 13 2015, @04:40PM

      by kurenai.tsubasa (5227) on Saturday June 13 2015, @04:40PM (#195819) Journal

      I think you're talking about the Wolf Trap []. I don't think he died of suicide, though. If I'm remembering from Sagan's Cosmos correctly, he slipped and fell to his death while collecting data from that instrument during an Antarctic mission.

  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Saturday June 13 2015, @03:21PM

    by kaszz (4211) on Saturday June 13 2015, @03:21PM (#195795) Journal

    So if this mission is launched in 2020. When will we see the pictures? (and data)
    It's supposedly to launch no later than 2022 but we all know about budget cuts and delays..

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 14 2015, @12:13AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 14 2015, @12:13AM (#195920)

    Just like all of the mars craft.

    Hey, who cares about hearing an alien world when we can look at another 5,000 photos of rocks and pour over more mass spectrometry results?


    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 14 2015, @01:51AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 14 2015, @01:51AM (#195947)

      <sarcasm>Yeah, the static-y sound of wind blowing on a microphone is really cool.</sarcasm>