Europa Clipper’s Thermal Imager Delivered to JPL – NASA’s Europa Clipper

Engineers prepare Europa Clipper’s thermal imager for a series of functional tests in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, following the delivery of the Arizona State University-designed and -built instrument after months of testing. The instrument, called the Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS), will measure the surface temperature of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After months of testing, an Arizona State University-designed and -built instrument to measure the surface temperature of Jupiter’s moon Europa has arrived at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. There it will join eight other instruments and become an integral part of the agency’s Europa Clipper spacecraft.

The instrument is the Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) led by Philip Christensen of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

E-THEMIS is an infrared camera designed to map temperatures across Europa’s surface. Its images, taken in three heat-sensitive bands, will help scientists find clues about Europa’s geological activity, including regions where the moon’s presumed ocean may lie near the surface. While Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon, scientists think its ocean may hold twice the volume of Earth’s oceans.

An image showing three strips of the same landscape, each corresponding to a different time of the day, with the colors changing to reflect the buildings heating and cooling down during the day.

In January 2022 the Arizona State University team took test images with the E-THEMIS camera from the rooftop of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 on the Arizona State University Tempe campus. E-THEMIS made temperature-sensing images at midday, in late afternoon, and after sunset. These images revealed how the temperature of the buildings and landscape responded to changes in sunlight as the day progressed.

Besides identifying any warmer areas on Europa’s surface, E-THEMIS images will also help scientists determine the physical state of the icy surface. As parts of Europa’s landscape cool after local sunset, areas of solid ice will stay warmer longer, while those with a granular texture will lose heat more rapidly. By mapping the rates of cooling across the surface, scientists will better understand Europa’s small-scale properties. This technique might even help to identify interesting sites for a possible future lander.

Europa Clipper is a spacecraft sent to investigate Jupiter’s ice-shrouded moon Europa. It is planned to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2024 and arrive at Jupiter in April 2030 after making flybys of Mars in 2025 and Earth in 2026. These planetary flybys use the masses of Mars and Earth to increase the spacecraft’s velocity so it can reach the Jupiter system.

After entering orbit at Jupiter, the spacecraft will make about 50 flybys of Europa to investigate whether the moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

Read more about the delivery here.

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