The Europa Clipper rocks a Batman-equivalent load-out of gadgets. First off, it is highly radiation-tolerant, capable of withstanding Jupiter’s radiation bombardment as the spacecraft performs its flybys and observations. Equipped with cameras and spectrometers, The Bat-Clipper will capture high resolution images of the moon’s surface to determine its composition. Using radar, it will measure the thickness of the icy shell composing its surface and attempt to discover any traces of subsurface lakes similar to those found underneath the ice sheets in Antarctica. The orbiter’s magnetometer will detect the strength of Europa’s magnetic field, allowing researchers to determine how deep and salty the moon’s ocean is. Additional tools will measure the gravity of the moon as well, allowing a definitive confirmation of the existence of a subsurface ocean. Clipper will also utilize a thermal instrument to scour the frozen surface for water eruptions and better determine the thin composition of the moon’s atmosphere.
Europa remains the best candidate for finding life in our Solar System due to the probability of a liquid ocean underneath its surface. On Earth, wherever we find water, we find life, leading scientists to wonder if this logic translates to other worlds outside our planet. In 2012, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered potential evidence of water plumes erupting from Europa’s surface, and the Europa Clipper plans to fly through right those plumes to gather much data and learn the composition of the moon’s interior. These plumes would aid in confirming the existence of the ocean, and help scientists understand the moon’s composition and chemical makeup of the frozen ocean world, laying the foundation for follow up missions that may one day drill through the layers of ice, and ultimately determine the moon’s habitability.