I grew up with space books, Star Trekand the occasional trip to the Santa Monica College Planetarium. Space continues to fascinate me, as do many of us.
So as my daughter got older (she’s almost 5 now), we tried reading some space books together. If you’re curious, Eric Berger, Ars space expert, recommended it The Jupiter Stone-it is awesome.
Lately, however, my daughter and I have been working on some more non-fiction works tailored to her age group. We tore through it Astronaut, Caroline’s cometsand The International Space Station. And every now and then we tiptoe to YouTube to learn more about NASA and other space agencies.
For example, this remains my all-time favorite space video. I must have watched it 10 times.
Recently, The Kid and I were reading specifically about Jupiter’s moons, including Europa. Not only is this moon amazing because it’s believed to have water and ice in it, but last year NASA announced it would be sending a probe over the next few years.
As NASA wrote, “Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because it holds an ocean of salty, liquid water beneath its icy crust. Europa Clipper’s ultimate goal is to determine if Europa is habitable and possesses all three ingredients.” necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients and energy sources sufficient to make biology possible.”
Fascinated, we decided to take a picture of Jupiter and Europa and write a short cover letter to Dr. David Williams, whose name is at the bottom of this NASA webpage on Jupiter satellites. We enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope and waited for a reply.
Our message was short:
Dear Dr. David Williams:
My name is [REDACTED]. I was reading about Europe today with my dad. We’ve got a question for you: how can we help the Europa Clipper take beautiful photos of my favorite icy moon? Love, [REDACTED]Age 4 & Cyrus Farivar (aka Papa), Age 36
To our delight, he recently responded in a two-page handwritten letter:
Thanks for writing. I’ve posted a picture of the Europa Clipper with Europa in the background and Jupiter behind it. This was done by an artist, but the real thing should look something like this. Europa is one of the most interesting objects in the solar system, because while it’s very, very cold this far from the sun (about 300 degrees below zero!), Jupiter helps keep Europa warm. While Europa orbits Jupiter, much like our moon orbits Earth, Jupiter is so large that it actually has enough gravity to compress Europa, causing Europa to move back and forth.
Its shape flattens and then stretches, and this creates a lot of heat inside, which is probably why the surface ice has cracked and has orange lines. Inside it can get warm enough for the ice to melt and form an ocean of liquid water, so maybe things can live there. We don’t know, but we’d like to know. The Europa Clipper is our next step to explore Europa and discover what lies beneath the ice. The Europa Clipper is still being planned so there isn’t much we can do, but if you continue to follow the progress online you’ll know how things are going. I hope this helped, thanks again for writing.
Your friend, Dave
Dave, you made a kid in Oakland very happy. Thanks man. Whatever happens to Europe, rest assured NASA has a few fans in the Bay Area who will be following closely.