A view of Europa

Europa, one of Jupiter’s largest moons, has long intrigued scientists with its icy surface and the potential for a subsurface ocean. The possibility of such an ocean raises an exciting prospect: could Europa support life? This blog post will delve into the current and future missions to Europa, the instruments onboard these spacecraft, and how they aim to uncover the secrets of this icy moon.

Current Missions to Europa

Juno Mission

The Juno spacecraft, currently in orbit around Jupiter, has provided valuable data about the gas giant and its moons. One of its instruments, the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), is a star camera used to orient the spacecraft. During a flyby of Europa in September 2022, the SRU captured a detailed image of Europa’s surface, contributing to our understanding of the moon’s icy terrain.

Europa Clipper Mission

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, set to launch in 2024, aims to conduct a detailed reconnaissance of Europa’s surface. The mission’s main science objectives are to understand the nature of the ice shell and the ocean beneath it, along with the moon’s composition and geology. The spacecraft will make nearly 50 flybys of Europa, scanning nearly the entire moon.

Future Missions to Europa

The European Space Agency is developing a mission called JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer), which will further our understanding of Jupiter’s icy moons, including Europa. There’s also potential for future lander missions that could directly sample Europa’s surface.

Instruments Onboard and Their Roles

The Europa Clipper will carry a suite of science instruments to achieve its objectives:

  • Cameras and Spectrometers: These will produce high-resolution images and composition maps of Europa’s surface and thin atmosphere.
  • Ice-penetrating Radar: This will search for subsurface water, providing crucial data on the suspected ocean.
  • Magnetometer and Gravity Measurements: These will unlock clues about Europa’s ocean and deep interior.
  • Thermal Instrument: This will pinpoint locations of warmer ice and perhaps recent eruptions of water, providing further evidence of the subsurface ocean.

The Quest to Confirm the Presence of a Liquid Water Ocean

The suite of instruments onboard the Europa Clipper will work together to confirm the presence of a subsurface ocean. For instance, variations in the magnetic field could indicate a conductive material, such as a salty ocean, beneath the surface. Similarly, the ice-penetrating radar could reveal liquid water beneath the icy surface.

The Search for Life on Europa

The ultimate goal of these missions is to determine if Europa could support life. By studying the composition of the moon’s surface and potential ocean, scientists hope to find evidence of biosignatures, or signs of life. The discovery of life or conditions suitable for life on Europa would have profound implications for our understanding of life’s existence beyond Earth.


The exploration of Europa represents one of the most exciting frontiers in space exploration. As we stand on the cusp of these missions, we can only imagine what secrets Europa may hold and how its exploration could reshape our understanding of life in the universe.