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Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.

Exploratour: NASA's Exploration for Life

The Mars Climate Orbiter with all the instruments on board.
Click on image for full size
JPL/NASA

The mission is designed to measure the thickness of the surface ice and to detect an underlying liquid ocean if it exists. more instruments are needed than can do the job in one flight, thus this mission would be a precursor mission, preliminary to sending "hydrobots" or remote controlled submarines that could melt through the ice and explore the undersea realm.

Potential studies include using an instrument called a radar sounder to bounce radio waves through the ice, the Europa Orbiter sciencecraft would be able to detect an ice-water interface, perhaps as little as 1 km below the surface. Other instruments would reveal details of the surface and interior processes. Scientists and engineers have the difficult task of designing a spacecraft to perform just the right studies to determine where to drill on the next flight, without designing a spacecraft that is too heavy to be launched from the Earth. Some of the potential experiments are listed below:

  • A camera to produce daily images of Europa?
  • A laser altimeter to bounce beams of light off of the surface to measure the depth of a potential ocean/crust interface?
  • A thermal emission spectrometer to scan for heat emitted from the surface?
  • A magnetometer to study the magnetic properties of Europa to gain insight into the interior of the moon?
    • detect currents circulating in a salty ocean
  • A relay antenna to receive data transmitted to the orbiter from future spacecraft that will land on the surface? An analysis of radio signals sent to Earth will reveal the precise shape of the moon.
  • A mass spectrometer to detect vents of volatiles being released?
  • Radar Sounder to find thin spots in the ice?
    • can only estimate thickness because properties of the material are needed which are unknown, such as the index of refraction
    • need accurate composition, including content of small particles
    • need particle size distribution & impurity
Which do you think could be eliminated from the list?



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Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games section of our online store includes a climate change card game and the Traveling Nitrogen game!

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Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Even though the sleeping man is no longer on the bed, you can still see where he was lying down. The heat from his body warmed up the bed sheets which are now radiating infrared light toward your eyes....more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

All warm objects (not just people) radiate in the infrared. Warmer objects give off more infrared radiation. Very hot objects radiate other types of light in addition to infrared. Click on the picture...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Your eye is a wonderful detector of visible light. Different frequencies of light produce different sensations in the eye which we interpret as colors. Our eyes detect light by using light sensitive components...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Imagine you found a pair of special glasses that not only gave you telescopic vision but gave you the ability to see all forms of radiant energy. The universe in visible light contains all the familiar...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a volcano on the island of Miyake in Japan. It has erupted, sending hot lava and ash into the air, a total of ten times. The time after one eruption until the next occurred was about twenty years...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a picture of a galaxy in visible light. A galaxy is a large number of stars, some like our sun, some bigger, some smaller and all moving together through space. This galaxy is called Centaurus...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a plant in Gary, Indiana where power is made. We use power to run things like television sets, radios, lights, and microwave ovens. The picture looks very strange because it was taken in infrared....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA