Earlier this year, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory started assembling the Europa Clipper spacecraft so it is ready for its launch in 2024 (you can find the latest update here). Once it arrives at Jupiter, the spacecraft will have at least 50 flybys to study the Jovian moon and learn more about its inside, outside, and atmosphere.
Why Europa? NASA explains it this way:
Extraterrestrial life might exist under all sorts of conditions that humans would struggle to imagine. But we know of one set of conditions in which life flourishes in a multitude of shapes and sizes: the conditions found on Earth. Because we know Earth has the right conditions for life, humans can then sharply narrow down the search for extraterrestrial life by searching only in places that have the conditions that Earth life requires: a source of energy, the presence of certain chemical compounds, and temperatures that allow liquid water to exist. Jupiter’s icy moon Europa seems to be just such a place.
And water exists in abundance, as the NASA graphic shows below.
The Europa Clipper will not make it to Jupiter until 2030, so we have a long wait ahead of us. It also gives us plenty of time to guess about what we will find.
You can follow the status of the Europa Clipper here.