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Last week, NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) decided to join forces for two Outer Planet flagship missions they hope will answer questions about how the Solar System formed and whether life exists beyond Earth, and this was announced to the public yesterday.

Click the image to see the story.

The missions are tentatively called the Europa Jupiter System Mission and the Titan Saturn System Mission.

The Europa Jupiter System Mission is a pair of orbiters, one that will explore Jupiter's moon, Europa:


Not how its water-ice surface is striated by cracks and streaks, and that craters are relatively infrequent. The apparent youth and smoothness strongly indicate a water ocean flowing beneath the crust. Heat from tidal flexing (Jupiter is huge keeps the ocean liquid and drives geological activity. This energetic water-ocean naturally leads to questions about alien life, making this little world one of the most interesting places to study. Not so little, though: Europa is slightly smaller than our Moon, making it the sixth-largest moon in the Solar System. Though smaller than the other Galilean satellites, its mass is greater than the combined mass of all other moons in the Solar System smaller than itself.

The other orbiter will study Jupiter's huge moon, Ganymede:


Ganymede is by far the largest moon in the Solar System; in fact, it is larger than Mercury and Pluto, and not much smaller than Mars. If Ganymede were not Jupiter's moon, there would be no argument against classifying it as a planet.

These two Jupiter-system orbiters will also study dynamic phenomena such as Io’s volcanoes and Jupiter’s atmosphere, map the Jovian magnetosphere and its interactions with the Galilean (four major ones that Galileo discovered), and study the water oceans beneath the ice shells of both worlds.

The Titan Saturn System Mission is a set of spacecraft that will study Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus. The orbiter will explore the surfaces of the worlds while two robot explorers will float through the atmosphere of Titan and splash down into its hydrocarbon ocean. Wow!

Click the image to see the story.

Titan is more rich in non-carbon organic molecules than any place in the Solar System, including Earth! This material forms in the atmosphere and settles on the surface. When it comes into contact with liquid water, it might go through chemistry that replicates the origin of life. An important goal of this mission is to understand how these chemical processes generate and destroy organic molecules and learn something about the origin of life. The orbiter will also study Saturn's magnetosphere, which looks like this (similar to Jupiter's, which is even bigger):

Click the image to see the story.

This is exciting stuff! Just decided yesterday, this means that the Obama administration is not only not against space exploration, but completely for it. Whew!

Best,
Chris

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
siro_gravity
Feb. 19th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
WOWWOWOWOW!
i SO want to be in one of those balloon-looking thingies!

the image of europa is amazing! it looks alive, almost -like some kind of egg, traversed by a network of blood vessels.

i am not surprised the obama administration is interested in space travel. and it's good we can let go of the glory of being the first to go somewhere and explore. nasa + esa means the burden of cost is spread out more, and so hopefully more can be learned.
mckitterick
Feb. 19th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
I know! How awesome would that be? Maybe after we're able to upload our minds into digital form, we can be planetary explorers....

I completely agree that collaboration is a very smart thing. For a lot of reasons.
ericreynolds
Feb. 19th, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
Joint missions are a good thing. Explore for exploration's sake, not always just for competition.
mckitterick
Feb. 20th, 2009 08:36 am (UTC)
Absolutely!
steve98052
Feb. 19th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
Hooray for stimulus by way of space engineer salaries!
mckitterick
Feb. 20th, 2009 08:37 am (UTC)
I'm for it!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )