/ Modified jun 3, 2015 4:58 a.m.

Tucson Technology to Photograph Jupiter's Moon

University of Arizona researchers' instruments win ride aboard journey to Europa

Photo courtesy: NASA


If everything goes as planned, technology created by Tucson scientists will be aboard a NASA mission to explore one of Jupiter’s moons.

Alfred McEwen from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and Amy Barr Mlinar and Candice Hansen, both with the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute, were chosen to work on a mission to send an upcoming unmanned space probe to Europa. The moon is among the solar system’s most unusual worlds.

NASA officials told the researchers last week that their science packages will be included on the flight.

McEwen’s imaging system, called EIS, is one of two cameras that will take pictures of Europa’s frozen, fractured surface. The system is one of nine scientific instruments NASA selected for the mission.

“With EIS, we will be able to cover 90 percent of Europa with better than 50 meters per pixel,” said McEwen. “We haven’t seen most of Europa at the scale needed to really appreciate its diversity, and we’ll get particular areas down to a half a meter per pixel, the scale you need to understand how to land on the surface.”

Scientists think Europa’s thick, icy surface covers a huge sea, which occasionally bursts through cracks triggered by tidal forces and underwater hypothermal vents. NASA chose Mlinar’s radar measurement package to go aboard the yet-unnamed Europa spacecraft.

“I think the biggest problem we are facing with Europa studies right now is that we don’t have global coverage,” she said. “We haven’t seen all of Europa’s surface.”

NASA’s fiscal year 2016 budget includes $30 million to develop the Europa-orbiting mission and launch it as early as 2022. It would fly to within 16 miles of the moon’s surface at the end of its journey from Earth.

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