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The Beresheet lander is on its way to the moon and Jupiter's magnetic field might be affecting Europa's ocean.

Host: Caitlin Hofmeister

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[ ♪ Intro ].

Even though the Moon is, like, right there, it's actually not that easy to get to. Because leaving Earth is a huge challenge and gently hitting a small target is even harder, only three countries have successfully put a lander on its surface: the Soviet Union, the United States, and China.

But if all goes according to plan, Israel is about to join that list. In just under a month, their Beresheet lander is scheduled to touch down on the Moon. It will be a big milestone for the country, but also for humanity overall.

Beresheet will be the first lunar landing conducted by a private company. Beresheet is named for a Hebrew word that roughly translates to “in the beginning”, and it launched from Florida aboard one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets on February 22nd. About half an hour after liftoff, the craft separated from the rocket and began a series of loops around Earth that will get it closer and closer to the Moon.

Since then, things have been going pretty well. There have been a couple of small glitches, including a surprise computer reset, but mission control quickly fixed them. Beresheet is scheduled to arrive at the Moon on April 4th, and it will hopefully land a week later.

Its planned destination is the Sea of Serenity, a giant lava plain that formed about 3.8 billion years ago. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union's Luna 21 mission deployed a lander there, and it detected some weird magnetism readings. Beresheet's magnetometer will be able to investigate that further, which should teach us more about the Moon's early history and the magnetic field it used to have.

If this lander sounds familiar, it's because the company that built it, called SpaceIL, was one of the final five contestants in Google's Lunar X-Prize. This competition planned to award 20 million dollars to the first team to land a craft on the Moon and fulfill a few other mission requirements. As part of that process, SpaceIL partnered with several individuals and both government and private organizations to fund their project.

But in the end, after extending the deadline several times,. Google ultimately didn't award a cash prize when none of the teams could meet the March 31, 2018 deadline. Still, SpaceIL continued working, and they ended up joining forces with NASA to send their project to the Moon, anyway.

NASA even gave the mission some additional equipment, including a laser retro-reflector, which is basically a set of tiny mirrors you can bounce lasers off of to measure distance. If you have a bunch of them, you can figure out roughly where you are around the Moon. So in the future, the reflectors on Beresheet could be used to help spacecraft navigate lunar orbit.

Also, when this thing lands, it will kick up a bunch of dust and rock. And NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is currently orbiting the Moon, will be able to study what it's made of using its various instruments. Beresheet will be able to help with all kinds of science, but it will also stand as a monument for its home country.

The craft carries a time capsule containing digital files, including Israeli history, songs, and literature. It also contains the entire English Wikipedia, which will theoretically create a backup copy for everything we know. Theoretically.

And since this will be the first privately-run Moon landing, it will be a big moment for humanity, too as we keep moving into a new era of commercial spaceflight. We'll have to wait a little while for Beresheet to teach us about our Moon. But in the meantime, scientists are also releasing new info on other moons, like Jupiter's moon Europa.

If you were to ask NASA for a list of the most interesting moons in the solar system,. I bet Europa is definitely somewhere near the top. We've known about it since the early 1600s, but in the last few decades, evidence has suggested that it has a huge body of liquid water underneath its surface.

Unfortunately, we won't have direct proof until we send a probe there. So in the meantime, astronomers have been using computer models to try to study how that ocean might behave. And in a new paper published this week in Nature Astronomy Letters, they've found evidence that Jupiter's magnetic field might have a potentially-surprising effect on it.

At first blush, it might seem like a magnetic field shouldn't do anything to a bunch of water. But if this ocean exists, it's likely full of charged particles from dissolved salts, which the field could act on. Also, Jupiter's magnetic field is at an angle relative to Europa's orbit.

That means that, as Europa moves around, the magnetic field it experiences has a different strength and direction. In other words, the field is shifting. And a shifting magnetic field causes charged particles to start flowing and generating electrical currents.

So Jupiter's magnetic field could be pushing around salty water underneath Europa. In this new study, computer models showed that this is likely true. The models showed both strong upward and downward turbulence in the water, as well as a westward jet at Europa's equator.

Granted, sources like hydrothermal vents and regular old heat transfer are all happening at the same time, and they have a stronger effect than Jupiter's magnetic field. But this is an important thing to study if we want to fully understand what's going on inside Europa. Under the surface, these currents of water would help move around compounds that could be important to life.

And above the surface, they could help explain why we've seen certain kinds of cracks in Europa's ice. That jet of water from the simulations was moving the opposite way the moon rotates. So if it's real, it would create stress on the ice that would form cracks.

Of course, before we can say anything for sure, we really do need to get a spacecraft out there. And luckily, help is finally on the way! In 2022, the European Space Agency's JUICE mission is scheduled to launch, and it should arrive in 2029.

In addition to Europa, it will collect data from Ganymede and Callisto, which may also have subsurface oceans. NASA has a dedicated Europa mission in the works, called the Europa Clipper, but that one doesn't have a scheduled launch year yet. So, like with the SpaceIL mission, we have some waiting to do here, too.

But in not too long, we should have plenty of new, moon-themed discoveries. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space News, and special thanks to Matthew Brant, our Patreon President of Space. Thank you, Matthew Brant for supporting SciShow so much!

If you want to become our next president of space, or just help us keep making more episodes like this, you can go to And thank you! [ ♪ Outro ].