Monday, April 15, 2024

Check out the cool new “special record” heading to an ocean planet this year!

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When NASA’s Europa Clipper gets ready for its big journey to a frozen moon in October, it’s not just carrying cool science stuff. The spaceship is bringing a special design that’s like a message from Earth to space.

NASA often sends cool things with its missions, like names, pictures, and poems. Other missions, like Voyager, Perseverance, and Parker Solar Probe, have had their own special designs. Now, it’s Europa Clipper’s turn to keep this tradition alive.

Humans have always looked up at the stars and wondered if there’s life out there. Scientists think some places in our solar system could have the right conditions for life. One of those places is Europa, a moon of Jupiter. It has an underground ocean, maybe twice the size of all Earth’s oceans combined. But scientists weren’t sure if the water on Europa had the right stuff for life. Now, thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, they found carbon on Europa, a key ingredient for life as we know it. This discovery suggests Europa’s ocean might be a good place for life to exist.

The special design on the spaceship is a triangular plate made of a rare metal called tantalum. It protects the ship’s sensitive electronics from Jupiter’s strong radiation.

Inside the protection, there’s a tiny silicon chip with over 2.6 million names from people like you and me. The chip is part of a design showing a bottle floating around Jupiter and its moons, like a cosmic message in a bottle.

Experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California used special tools to write the names on the chip, smaller than one-thousandth of a human hair.

Under the bottle, there’s a poem called “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa” by Ada Limón. It’s written in her own handwriting. There’s also a picture of Ron Greeley, a scientist who helped make this Europa mission happen.

On the other side of the plate inside the protection, there’s something called the Drake Equation. It’s a way scientists use to guess if there might be smart life out there. It was made by Frank Drake in 1961.

The outside of the plate has drawings showing the word “water” in 103 languages. There’s a special symbol for “water” in American Sign Language. NASA also collected spoken words for “water” in different languages, and you can hear them on its website.

The back of the metal plate has more drawings of the word “water” in different languages. All of this makes the Europa Clipper’s journey extra special and full of messages from Earth to the universe.

A legacy in space exploration
Older space missions like Pioneer 10 and Voyager keep on influencing the art that travels along on newer missions exploring other planets.

When NASA launched the twin Voyager probes to venture into the solar system just a few weeks apart back in 1977, they carried identical golden records. These records were like a message from Earth to any intelligent beings out there in space. They had sounds and pictures showing the variety of life and culture on our planet, including greetings in 59 different human languages and 115 images.

The design of Europa Clipper’s plate was inspired by this idea to honor the possible link between Europa’s ocean and Earth’s oceans, as per NASA.

Lori Glaze, who heads NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said, “The design of Europa Clipper’s plate is filled with meaning. It brings together the best of what humanity represents — science, technology, learning, creativity, and mathematics. The message about the importance of water, essential for all life forms as we know it, really highlights Earth’s connection to this mysterious moon we’re about to explore.”

The spacecraft will use various tools like cameras, spectrometers, radar to see through ice, and a heat-measuring device to figure out how Europa came to be and whether it could support life in its icy ocean.

Robert Pappalardo, the project scientist at JPL, added, “We’ve put a lot of thought and inspiration into this plate design, just like we have for the mission itself. It’s been a journey of many years, and we’re excited to see what Europa Clipper will discover on this watery world.”

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