New ‘Clipper’ mission proposed to study Europa’s ocean

Jupiter’s moon Europa, an ice-covered waterworld. Could life exist there?
Credit: NASA / JPL / Ted Stryk.

Jupiter’s moon Europa is often referred to as a “waterworld,” and for good reason: a global ocean almost definitely exists below its outer icy crust, making it a primary focus of interest in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system. So far, most of the information we have about this fascinating moon has come from flybys of the Galileo and Voyager spacecraft; these missions have been invaluable, of course, although limited. If we want to learn more about what is going on below in the Europan ocean, it will require new spacecraft with the necessary instruments to carry out long-term studies. Budgets are tight for an orbiter or lander, but a newly proposed “clipper” mission may just fit the bill.

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Astronomers witness another fireball impact on Jupiter

Blemishes left on Jupiter’s clouds by the impact of fragments from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There were reports last night that another fireball had possibly been seen impacting Jupiter, similar to previous impacts, such as the famous comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994 and others in 2010.

This morning, those sightings have been confirmed, with at least one telescopic video showing the impact. The video was taken by astronomer George Hall in Dallas, Texas. The video shows the impact as it occurred at 6.35 am (Dallas time).

See Examiner.com for the full article.

Jupiter and Io

Jupiter and Io. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Goddard Space Flight Center

A beautiful “new” photo showing Jupiter and one of its moons, Io, has been making the rounds in cyberspace this week. The photo, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2007 as it passed Jupiter on its way to Pluto, is a montage of two separate images combined to show this view (with Io being much closer to the spacecraft). The Jupiter image is in infrared to bring out details in the turbulent atmosphere, while the Io image, taken about a day later, is in regular visible light.

The bluish area on the edge of Io is a huge plume from one of its many active volcanoes (Io is the most volcanically active known place in the solar system).

So while the photo may not actually be all that new, it is still an inspiring postcard sent from the Jovian realm…

Is Jupiter’s core liquifying?

Jupiter, with the moon Ganymede peeking out from behind. Credit: NASA/ESA/E. Karkoschka (U. Arizona)

Jupiter, the largest and most massive planet in our solar system, may be its own worst enemy. It turns out that its central core may in fact be self-destructing, gradually liquifying and dissolving over time. This implies it was previously larger than it is now, and may dissolve altogether at some point in the future. Will Jupiter eventually destroy itself completely? No, probably not, but it may lose its heart…

See Universe Today for the full article.

Juno looks back at home

The spacecraft Juno, now enroute to Jupiter, took a photo looking back at the Earth and Moon as it speeds away. It was about 9.66 million kilometers (6 million miles) away at the time, and will take another five years to get to Jupiter. In the image below, Earth is on the left and the moon is on the right. There have been pictures like this taken by other spacecraft before, but this reminds us again that everything in Earth’s history has occurred on that tiny “pale blue dot” floating in the infinite blackness of space.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On a side note, I’ve been wondering why we always tend to refer to the Moon as just “the moon” when its name is Luna. I mean, we call all of the other planets, moons, etc. by their proper names. Just a random thought!

The Great Red Spot in stunning detail

There is a great new blog post over at The Planetary Society Blog regarding a new, enhanced moasaic image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, from the original Voyager 1 images taken in 1979. New computer technology not available then has brought out amazing new details. The new enhancements were done by Björn Jónsson. It looks like a painting but is very real…! Larger hi-res version is here.

Credit: NASA/JPL. Image processing: Björn Jónsson