Friday, 5 June 2015

Exploring Ocean Worlds

The news that NASA looks likely to be given the funding it needs for missions to explore the ice moons and their underground oceans is very welcome indeed, and long overdue. It demonstrates that the US government is taking research into potential off-world colonies and the search for extra-terrestrial life seriously. And so it should.

The space agency will be directed to start an 'Ocean Worlds Exploration Programme', starting with a mission in the early part of the next decade to send a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa. Known as the 'Europa Clipper', its primary aim will be to gather more information on its subsurface ocean during repeated close flybys, often as close as 25 kilometres from the moon's surface.

Europa Clipper

The mission could even include a lander. This will be followed by missions to explore that ocean, and possibly look at the oceans beneath the surface of other moons, such as Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus. Such mission are an essential part of mankind's ultimate aim: to survive beyond the lifespan of the Earth itself.

As well as the ice moon missions, the budget proposal includes funding for the 'Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope', which will be able to directly image exo planets. Such a prospect is tremendously exciting and would further progress the search for life-bearing planets beyond the solar system, essential if we are to one day colonise planets orbiting other stars.

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope

We need many more missions like this if we are to learn how to survive beyond the confines of Earth. Hopefully this is just the start of a new wave of exploration and research.