Europe To Humanity: It’s Time To Astro-Probe The Jovian System

Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Callisto, Europa, Europe, Ganymede, Jupiter | 1 comment

Forget mapquesting Ganymede! It looks like Europe will spend a billion euro’s in order to launch JUICE (which stands for JUpiter ICy moon Explorer) find out more about Jupiter’s lunar children two decades from now (2030 for those who want to know).

ESA plans to pack the solar-powered spacecraft with a suite of instruments, which will collect high-resolution pictures as well as data on the moons’ chemical compositions, magnetic environments, and surface features.

During its roughly three-year mission, JUICE will perform two flybys of Europa, examining that moon’s icy crust in search of sites for future exploration, perhaps by a lander.

Then, after a dozen flybys of Callisto, the spacecraft will slip into orbit around Ganymede in 2032 and will study Jupiter’s largest moon for nearly a year.

“The ice shells of Ganymede and Europa serve as a window to the oceans below,” Hand said. That’s because, as in the Arctic on Earth, the surface ice is most likely born from oceans below, and so will carry information about the liquid water’s chemical composition. (National Geographic)

JUICE will also observer the relationship Jupiter has with the three Jovian moons (Callisto, Europa and Ganymede) as well as analyze each world for subterranean oceans.

Unfortunately humanity will be unable to visit Europa due to Jupiter’s radiation belts, although JUICE could help us identify potential spots to establish outposts upon Callisto as well as Ganymede (the latter which could be used as the bread basket of the Jovian system thanks in part to it’s magnetic field).

While JUICE’s purpose is to help us discover alien life upon other worlds, it’s launch and Jovian encounter could help prepare our species for spreading terrestrial life upon Jupiter’s outer Galilean moons.

Video Hat tip: Spaceports

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JUNO To Trek Where Humans Dare Not Travel (Jupiter)

Posted by on Jul 19, 2010 in Jupiter, NASA, Satellite | 5 comments

(Image Credit: NASA)

Despite its romantic place in celestial history, Jupiter is one hostile region.

Of the four Galilean moons that orbit this Jovian world, only Callisto is is known to be habitable for humans due to the planet’s radiation belts.

But before we can even attempt to conquer the Galilean moons is a distant future, we are going to have to scout out the gas giant in order to ensure that our species is able to survive orbiting our star systems largest gas giant.

Using a spinning, solar-powered spacecraft, Juno will make maps of the gravity, magnetic fields, and atmospheric composition of Jupiter from a unique polar orbit. Juno will carry precise high-sensitivity radiometers, magnetometers, and gravity science systems . During its one-year mission, Juno will complete 33 eleven-day-long orbits and will sample Jupiter’s full range of latitudes and longitudes. From its polar perspective, Juno combines in situ and remote sensing observations to explore the polar magnetosphere and determine what drives Jupiter’s remarkable auroras. (New Frontiers, NASA)

NASA has already begun building the titanium shield that will protect the delicate satellite from the raging ions, protons and elections of the planet (which are strong enough to kill robots, let alone humans).

“For the 15 months Juno orbits Jupiter, the spacecraft will have to withstand the equivalent of more than 100 million dental X-rays,” said Bill McAlpine, Juno’s radiation control manager, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “In the same way human beings need to protect their organs during an X-ray exam, we have to protect Juno’s brain and heart.” […]

With guidance from JPL and the principal investigator, engineers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems designed and built a special radiation vault made of titanium for a centralized electronics hub. While other materials exist that make good radiation blockers, engineers chose titanium because lead is too soft to withstand the vibrations of launch, and some other materials were too difficult to work with.

Each titanium wall measures nearly a square meter (nearly 9 square feet) in area, about 1 centimeter (a third of an inch) in thickness, and 18 kilograms (40 pounds) in mass. This titanium box — about the size of an SUV’s trunk – encloses Juno’s command and data handling box (the spacecraft’s brain), power and data distribution unit (its heart) and about 20 other electronic assemblies. The whole vault weighs about 200 kilograms (500 pounds). (Astrobiology Magazine)

JUNO is expected to survive at least 15 months in Jovian orbit, which should give scientists plenty of information on not only how extensive Jupiter’s radiation belts are, but their exact width and strength as well.

These measurements could determine whether Ganymede (which is larger than the planet Mercury) is worthy of human settlement.

While this information will not benefit our species in this day and age (or even our grandkids for that matter), it may help us map out safe locations of travel within the Jupiteran system, helping humanity survive within the system without being radiated like popcorn in a microwave.

(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LMSS)

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The 7 (Future) Wonders Of The Solar System

Posted by on Nov 20, 2009 in Asteroids, Blog, Callisto, Future, Ganymede, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Moon, Pluto, Saturn, Solar Essay, Titan, Uranus | 5 comments


Two hundred years after the first man and woman graced the plains of Mars, humanity is still isolated to just one star system.

Despite an intense campaign by the Alpha Centauri Society, humans overall have little desire to travel between stars due to cost and technology.

Although this rowdy species has yet to claim their interstellar inheritence, they have transformed their solar playground around them, producing seven wonders that will go down in galactic history.

The Silver Stripes of Mercury

Originally conceived as a penal colony, industrial corporations decended upon Mecury after discovering large deposits of minerals and metals upon its surface.

While its close proximety to the Sun has made Mercury famous for its Magsail races, it’s the billions of solar panels that encircle the planet on the surface (in “neat” rows varying between 1-10 km wide) that make this world an engineering wonder.

The planets 100,000 residents use the energy produced during the Mecurian day to power the ores and cities on the dark side of the planet when it’s safe to work above ground (due to the Sol Star’s radiation).

The Bio Gardens of Luna Maria


(Image Credit: Daein Ballard)

Officially designated Luna Maria after the failed Lunar revolution (condemned by government and religious leaders on Earth), Luna Maria has transformed its appearence from a white barren wasteland into a “second Eden,” which now boasts 60 million residents.

After generating enormous wealth from exporting oxygen throughout the Sol System, Luna Maria has erected hundreds of thousands of enormous, interconnected biospheres upon 87% of its surface, giving Luna Maria the appearence of a miniture Earth from space.

Luna Maria’s artificial planetary magnetic field (the only one in existance due to cost) has allowed the moon to use bees instead of ants to pollinate its crops, producing gardens unrivaled throughout the star system (due to it’s 16.7% Earth norm gravity).

The Phobian Skyhook (Or Martian Space Elevator)


(Image Credit: Steve Bowers)

After failed attempts to construct a space elevator on Earth (due to infrequent yet devestating global wars), humanity was finally able to construct a skyhook on the Martian moon of Phobos.

This engineering feat has enabled Mars to inexpensively export its vast supply of water throughout the asteroid belt and inner Sol System, bringing mixed prosperity to the 8 million residents of Mars.

While the red planet’s globacanes prevent a space elevator touching the ground from ever being built, the Phobian Skyhook is an impressive site to see when orbiting this crimson world.

The Jovian Jewel Callisto


(Image Credit: Thomas Guilpain)

Originally established as a way station world during the Helium-3 rush (in which thousands sought to harvest the isotope for profit), Jupiter’s moon Callisto attracted millions of residents after being declared the safest radiation world after Earth.

Using its brother moon Ganymede as an agricultural world (due to it’s natural magnetic field), Callisto developed the means to feed its enormous population of 750 million, who built cities covering 96% of the entire surface.

Using robots to harvest radioactive materials from both Io and Europa to power its cities (as they are too dangerous to be visited by humans), Callisto brilliantly shimmers in the dark whenever it falls underneath Jupiter’s shadow.

The Beacon Towers Of Titan

Often declared as “an astronomer’s hell” due to it’s cloudy covering, Saturn’s moon Titan is considered a musicians heaven due to the richer sound that’s a result of it’s atmospheric presure and composition.

While Titan eventually became wealthy by exporting methane and ethane to the Sol System, the cloudy moon was extremly difficult to navigate as its crust rested upon a methane/ethane mix, causing it to “slightly drift” and rotate due to the worlds strong winds.

Since traditional forms of GPS were utterly useless, numerous 1.5 kilometer tall Beacon towers (beaming out intense radio waves) were constructed thoughout the moon, giving its 4 million residents a faux GPS system (making travel and commerce throughout the world a lot easier for all).

The Floating Cities Of Uranus


(Image Credit: Star Wars, original artist unknown)

Originally built by various Terrian corporations to harvest methane and helium-3 within the clouds of this ice giant, these floating cities soon became tourist attractions for the more affluent seeking to escape the low gravity life of lunar worlds orbiting gas giants.

These giant orbital space stations boast near Earth gravity, and mimic the daylight cycle on Earth by floating around the enormous ice giant which its residents call home.

While estimates put the total population between 80,000 wealthy souls, these floating cities are known to have hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through their space ports each standard year, many of them heading towards the Neptunian Lagrange asteroid fields.

The Plutonian Ice Bridge (aka Solar Bridge of Pluto And Charon)

Boasting no more than 50,000 brave souls, this world was originally settled upon by government scientists from various Terrian, Martian and Callistian nations seeking to conduct experiments considered too hazardous (and/or controversial) on their respective home worlds.

While the world and its smaller moon hold little value (both visually and economically), one interesting feature of this binary system is the solar bridge connecting both Pluto and Charon together.

This engineering feat was originally built to reduce the cost of travel between both worlds via rockets although conspiracy theorists have their own conclusions for its existence (none of which will be cited here).

What about Earth?

Although the human race has made great strides in establishing colonies throughout the Sol System, most of its 20 billion individuals reside on the birth planet Earth.

While Earth is still home to some of the greatest scientific discoveries known to man (and women), there are no great engineering wonders to speak of, aside from the beautiful beaches, mountains and vast blue oceans that distinguish our home world from every other sphere that orbits our star.

Update (11/24): Corrected grammatical errors. Thanks!

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Scientists "Mapquest" Ganymede

Posted by on Sep 21, 2009 in Blog, Ganymede, Jupiter | 0 comments

Map of Ganymede

It looks like future explorers of Ganymede will no longer fear getting lost on the solar system’s largest moon thanks to the hard work of scientists (plus their robotic friends).

( Wes Patterson, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, led a seven-year effort to craft a detailed map of geological features on Ganymede, the largest moon of Jupiter. Patterson and a half-dozen scientists from several institutions compiled the global map – only the third ever completed of a moon, after Earth’s moon and Jupiter’s cratered satellite Callisto – using images from NASA’s historic Voyager and Galileo missions.

“The map really gives us a more complete understanding of the geological processes that have shaped the moon we see today,” says Patterson, whose team will present and discuss the map at the 2009 European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, Germany [.]

Despite dwelling within the radiation belts of daddy Jupiter, Ganymede may offer a future home for space settlers thanks to its magnetic field.

While it may be decades before humans ever set foot upon this world, hopefully the space powers that be will consider sending a rover to roam its cratered surface in the not so distant future. 😉

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Surviving The Wrath Of Jupiter (By Mapping Its Radiation Belts)

Posted by on Jan 21, 2009 in Blog, Europa, Ganymede, Health, Jupiter | 0 comments

Despite being arrayed in a dazzling display of colors (whether in stripes or spots), Jupiter is not one of the safest locations to establish a colony thanks in part to radiation (with the only exception being the lunar moon Callisto).

In order for humanity to survive upon Jupiter’s other moons, we may need to create a radiation map for future settlers.

(Astrobiology Magazine) It’s dangerous to remain too long inside the radiation belts of Jupiter. The high-energy particles can damage space probes, and they also can destroy biological molecules or other signatures of life that might exist on inner moons like Europa. A new study plans to determine just how hazardous an impact the radiation belts have on the Jovian system. […]

Patterson and his colleagues are building a detailed map of the surface of Europa and another map of its sister moon Ganymede. The project—led by Louise Prockter of John Hopkins University as part of NASA’s Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program—will identify dead zones where radiation would likely fry any interesting chemical compounds, as well as possible safe havens that might harbor material expelled from the ocean below.

While it is probably doubtful that Europa will visited by anything but robots (as its frozen bare surface is bathed in Jupiter’s deadly radiation belts), its bigger brother Ganymede may show more promise in the long run (especially if adequate shielding is built for the Jovian settlements).

Either way a radiation map will benefit future explorers (and robots) who may be able to locate valuable resources upon Jupiter’s Galilean satellites.

(Image Credit: NASA / JPL)

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Aquarium Homes For Mars (And Other Radiation Worlds)

Posted by on Mar 19, 2008 in Blog, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Solar Essay, Technology | 4 comments

(Article inspired by Clark Lindsey of Hobby Space)

Imagine waking up every morning, excited by the mere fact that you are living a hundred million miles away from your home planet, Earth. You slowly ease out of bed, being very careful not to jump too high lest you bump your head against the ceiling (a minor setback of living within reduced gravity).

After briefly enjoying a few hops in a third of your weight, you slip on your gravity suit (due to doctors orders), feed the pigs and dream about someday actually seeing a Martian sunrise from your underground outpost, instead of going above ground at night due to radiation.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the awe inspiring red planet.

Despite the fact that this potential reality may not look too exciting, it is one many governments on Earth would be content with, as they would rather have their astronauts bored to death than “microwaved” via solar radiation.

While some may argue that anti-radiation drugs and portable magnetic shields would allow us to roam the red planet at will (as well as any other radiation safe world), both of these items may increase the overall cost of solar outposts, which may encourage tax payers to grumble about the price tag.

Instead of reducing astronauts into future cave dwellers, why not enclose these future space homes within thick layers of glass and liquid water?

Of the many materials used to protect humans from radiation exposure, lead, aluminum and water are probably the “easiest ways” shield our fragile bodies from the wrath of the Universe.

Even though most colonists would probably prefer a “wall of lead” (or even aluminum) around them, launching the material from Earth (or mining via the asteroid belt) may prove to be very costly, especially when one adds taxes to the final bill.

Water ice on the other hand seems to have placed its finger prints on every solar world save four (Mercury, Venus, Luna aka Earth’s moon and Io) and would provide a far cheaper means of securing our foothold upon these semi-hostile worlds.

Although using water as a cheaper alternative may sound reasonable to some people, using glass may not. After all, would it not be easier to simply use thick, translucent plastics instead of heavy glass?

While plastic does have its advantages over its older friend, it may be easier to create glass off world, mainly due to the fact that silica, one of the main ingredients of of sand (or quartz if you live on Earth) can be used to “easily” create glass on other worlds.

On Mars silica is present within the soil, while on other worlds such as Callisto, and Ganymede, silicon is contained within the crust, respectively. This may be true of the other worlds orbiting Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, although NASA will have to confirm this with future probes (and hopefully rovers).

While water and glass may help provide an inexpensive way of shielding colonists from harmful rays, scientists could also grow radiation eating fungi within the watery walls. This would provide further protection, especially if a lunar colony operates within its host planet’s radiation belt.

Even though it would probably be wise for off world settlers to also carry portable magnetic fields and anti-radiation drugs with them, they would only have to seriously consider using them if they were going to travel well outside the protection of their base, or if they received warning of an impending solar storm.

Aquarium homes may not be the “end all” solution for us dwelling in the heavens, but they could allow humans to actually raise their kids upon the surface of other worlds (beholding their beauty), instead of below it.

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