Cornell researchers selected for Europa science teams

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Europa, a mysterious icy, oceanic moon of Jupiter.

For a future NASA mission to probe Jupiter’s mysterious icy, oceanic moon Europa, three Cornell researchers have joined teams to develop three of nine scientific instruments that will travel aboard the spacecraft, it was announced by NASA May 26.

Jonathan I. Lunine, the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences; Alex Hayes, assistant professor of astronomy; and Marco Mastrogiuseppe, research associate, have been selected to be part of the mission to Europa, which would launch in the 2020s.

Jonathan Lunine
Alexander Hayes
Macro Mastroguiseppe

The Europa mission will feature an array of cameras, spectrometers and other instruments to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface and to determine the moon’s composition.

Lunine is a co-investigator on the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) team, led by principal investigator Diana Blaney of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. This instrument will identify and map the distributions of organics, salts, acid hydrates, water ice phases and other materials to determine the habitability of Europa’s ocean.

Hayes is co-investigator on the Europa Imaging System (EIS) team, led by Elizabeth Turtle of the Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland. EIS will develop wide- and narrow-angle cameras that will acquire images of Europa at up to 50-centimeter resolution and produce highly accurate three-dimensional models of the surface.

Mastrogiuseppe is a co-investigator on the Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON) team, led by Donald Blankenship of the University of Texas, Austin. This dual-frequency ice-penetrating radar instrument is designed to characterize and sound Europa's icy crust from the near-surface to the ocean, revealing the hidden structure of Europa’s ice shell and potential water within.

Lunine and Hayes serve as faculty and board members to Cornell's Carl Sagan Institute, a new research center devoted to understanding other worlds and to see if these forms could harbor life both inside and outside of our own Solar System.

In total, NASA selected nine science instruments for the mission to see whether the Jovian moon could harbor conditions suitable for life. NASA’s fiscal year 2016 budget request includes $30 million to formulate a mission to Europa. The mission would send a solar-powered spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around the gas giant Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of Europa over a three-year period.

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Blaine Friedlander