Adv. Space Res.
Type: Zeitschriftenaufsatz (reviewed)
Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is one of most promising places in our Solar System where possible extraterrestrial life forms could exist either in the past or even presently. The Europa Lander mission, an exciting part of the international Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM/Laplace), considers in situ planetary exploration of the moon. The distance of Europa from the Earth and the Sun asks for autonomous analytical tools that maximize the scientific return at minimal resources, demanding new experimental concepts. We propose a novel instrument, based on the atomic spectroscopy of laser generated plasmas for the elemental analysis of Europa’s surface materials as far as it is in reach of the lander for example by a robotic arm or a mole, or just onboard the lander. The technique of laser-induced plasma spectrometry provides quantitative elemental analysis of all major and many trace elements. It is a fast technique, i.e. an analysis can be performed in a few seconds, which can be applied to many different types of material such as ice, dust or rocks and it does not require any sample preparation. The sensitivity is in the range of tens of ppm and high lateral resolution, down to 50 μm, is feasible. In addition, it provides the potential of depth profiling, up to 2 mm in rock material and up to a few cm in more transparent icy matrices. Key components of the instrument are presently developed in Germany for planetary in situ missions. This development program is accompanied by an in-depth methodical investigation of this technique under planetary environmental conditions.