In October, NASA will launch the Europa Clipper spacecraft on a mission to explore Jupiter’s moon, Europa. The spacecraft will carry a special message that includes the names of more than 2.6 million people who submitted their names to NASA.

Scientists believe that Europa has a vast ocean beneath its icy surface, containing more than twice the amount of water found in all of Earth’s oceans combined. To honor this connection to Earth, the spacecraft will have a triangular metal plate with several unique features.

At the center of the plate, there will be an engraving of a poem called “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa” by the U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón. Alongside the poem, a silicon microchip will be placed, containing the names of the 2.6 million people who participated in NASA’s “Message in a Bottle” campaign.

The microchip will be part of an illustration depicting a bottle floating in the Jovian system. The metal plate, made of tantalium, measures about 7 by 11 inches (18 by 28 centimeters) and has artwork on both sides.

The outer panel showcases the connection between Earth and Europa. It features the word “water” spoken in 103 languages from around the world, with the audio waveforms engraved on the plate. These waveforms radiate from a symbol representing the American Sign Language sign for “water”.

The message on the Europa Clipper is meant to inspire imagination and provide a unifying vision, similar to the Voyager spacecraft’s Golden Record, which carried sounds and images to convey the richness and diversity of life on Earth. After a journey of 1.6 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers), Europa Clipper will begin orbiting Jupiter in 2030, conducting 49 close flybys of Europa.

The spacecraft’s powerful suite of scientific instruments will gather data on the moon’s subsurface ocean, icy crust, thin atmosphere, and space environment to determine if conditions exist that could support life.

The plate also includes the Drake Equation, a mathematical formula developed by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961 to estimate the likelihood of finding advanced civilizations beyond Earth. The equation has inspired and guided research in astrobiology and related fields ever since.

Lastly, the plate features a portrait of Ron Greeley, one of the founders of planetary science, whose early efforts to develop a mission to Europa two decades ago laid the groundwork for Europa Clipper.

The Europa Clipper mission aims to determine if there are places beneath Europa’s icy surface that could support life. The three main science goals are to determine the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and its interactions with the ocean below, investigate its composition, and characterize its geology.

The detailed exploration of Europa will help scientists better understand the astrobiological potential of habitable worlds beyond our planet.


Sources

NASA


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