NASA’s Europa Clipper Is Sending a 'Message in a Bottle' to Jupiter With 2.6 Million Names

  • The Europa Clipper spacecraft will travel 1.8 billion miles to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons.

  • The Europa Clipper is carrying a special bit of cargo: a "vault plate" engraved with information about Earth.

Europa Clipper
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If everything goes according to plan, NASA will launch the Europa Clipper space probe aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2024. This ambitious planetary mission aims to determine whether Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, has the necessary conditions for life.

The Europa Clipper spacecraft will travel over 1.8 billion miles to reach its destination. Equipped with various scientific instruments, including cameras and spectrometers, it will also carry an engraved plate similar to the famous Voyager Golden Records.

Europa Clipper’s Own “Golden Record”

In the late 1970s, a team of NASA scientists led by Carl Sagan sent two Voyager probes into space. The probes carried two golden phonograph records containing a message “likely to survive a billion years.”

Now, the Europa Clipper probe presents a new opportunity to send a message into the cosmos. Instead of a gold disk, NASA will use a tantalum metal plate, known as the "vault plate," engraved with information about Earth.

As part of NASA’s “Message in a Bottle” campaign, the U.S. space agency invited people from around the world to sign their names, which were saved on a microchip placed at the center of the plate. Notably, more 2.6 million people participated in the initiative and will have their names sent through space.

Europa Clipper plate

Technicians at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory took on the challenge of etching all the names on a silicon chip the size of a coin. To accomplish this, they used an electron beam to create lines of text smaller than 1/1000th the width of a human hair (75 nanometers).

Europa Clipper plate

As you can see in the images above, the plate has designs on both sides. One side features a drawing of a bottle floating in Jupiter’s orbit, where you can also see some of the planet’s moons. Below is In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa, a poem written by American poet Ada Limón specifically for the mission.

The lower left corner of the plate includes a portrait of Ronald Greeley, a late Arizona State University professor whose contributions were fundamental to the mission. At the top, we can see the famous Drake Equation from the 1960s, which considers the possibility of finding life beyond Earth.

On the other side of the plate, visual representations of sound waves depict the word “water” in 103 different languages, a piece of work compiled by a group of linguists. In the center, there’s a symbol that also means “water” in American Sign Language.

Safe travels, Europa Clipper.

Image | NASA [1, 2, 3]

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