Europa Clipper: NASA unveils its interplanetary probe in search of life on Jupiter’s moons


The five billion dollar Clipper probe was unveiled this Thursday, April 12 by NASA. Next October, it is scheduled to fly towards Jupiter.

Are aliens secretly lurking beneath the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon? This Thursday, April 12, NASA unveiled an interplanetary probe to find out what’s going on.

The $5 billion Clipper probe is set to blast off in October aboard the solar system.

A journey of more than 5 years

The device will travel for more than five years, passing mainly through Mars, before entering orbit around Jupiter and Europa in 2031, if all goes according to plan.

“One of the fundamental questions NASA wants to understand is ‘are we alone in space?'” Bob Pappalardo, mission scientist, told AFP.

If evidence of life were discovered, “it would be a huge step forward in understanding how widespread life is in the universe,” he adds.

The device is currently kept in a sterile room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, where only personnel covered from head to toe have access.

All precautions are taken so that the probe does not bring any terrestrial microbes to Europa.

Once its mission begins, Clipper will begin a detailed inspection of this Moon-sized moon-sized moon of Jupiter, which scientists believe is covered in frozen water.

In search of favorable conditions for life

“We have instruments like cameras, spectrometers, a magnetometer, and radar that can … penetrate the ice, bounce off the liquid water, and come back to the surface to tell us how thick the ice is and where the liquid water is,” continues Bob Pappalardo .

Those in charge of the mission aren’t hoping to find little green men splashing around: in fact, they’re not necessarily looking for signs of life, just conditions that are favorable for it.

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Scientists know that even in extreme climatic conditions on Earth, under the ice cap in an environment without light, small life forms can exist.

“If moons around planets far away from stars could host life, then I think the number of possibilities in the solar system, in the universe, where life is present, increases dramatically,” said Jordan Evans, project leader of the Europa Clipper mission.

100,000 chest x-rays

But studying Europa won’t be easy: a strong radiation field surrounds Jupiter’s natural moon and could damage Clipper’s instruments, which receive the equivalent of 100,000 chest X-rays in each loop around their lens.

Due to the distance, the probe data will take 45 minutes to reach the control station.

And despite its huge solar panels once deployed in space, Mr Evans says it will be difficult to keep the Clipper operational.

“Near Earth, it could power 20 houses continuously, and (near) Jupiter just a few light bulbs and small appliances,” he explains.

The mission, whose planning began in the late 1990s, is scheduled to end around 2034, when Clipper will reach the end of its life.

The probe’s final step will be to crash into Jupiter’s moon, says Tim Larson, deputy project manager.

“When we’re done with the science mission, the way to end it is to hit one of the other (celestial) bodies in the Jovian system available to the device,” he concludes. “For now” NASA plans to launch a probe against Ganymede, the largest natural satellite of Jupiter, he specifies.

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