Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

Astro-Image(s) of the Day: NASA heading to Jupiter and Saturn!

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!

Tags: astronomy

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