ESA’s JUICE spacecraft to launch in search of life on Jupiter’s icy moons
The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to launch its JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft on a mission to explore three of Jupiter’s moons – Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. This mission is aimed at finding out whether there is life lurking in the depths of the icy oceans hidden beneath the moons’ surfaces.
The JUICE spacecraft is set to launch on April 13 from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and will travel for approximately eight years before reaching Jupiter in 2031. During the mission, the spacecraft will study the oceans of the three moons, which were revealed to contain liquid water by Nasa’s Galileo spacecraft in 1995.
JUICE will carry a magnetometer, an instrument built in the Imperial University labs in London and some people’s homes during the lockdown, to measure magnetic fields in space. The magnetometer will serve a key purpose in studying the oceans on Jupiter’s moons by measuring the magnetic field from electrical currents that flow in the liquid water ocean on Ganymede.
Professor Michele Dougherty, Principal Investigator for the magnetometer aboard JUICE, says that measuring the magnetic field will help the team to determine the depth and salt content of the ocean and whether it’s a global ocean or focused only on a part of the moon.
The moons of Jupiter are among the most likely places in the universe where life could form, according to Professor Dougherty. The JUICE mission could confirm this by providing proof of the existence of liquid water, heat, and organic material on these moons, the three key ingredients needed for life to form.
The mission will answer a lot of questions about whether life could potentially exist in a similar system with a gas giant like Jupiter and moons orbiting elsewhere in the galaxy, says Caroline Harper, Head of Space Science at the UK Space Agency.
The mission is expected to take around 30 years, including seven and a half years of travel to Jupiter and 15 years of data collection. Scientists are confident that the data gathered from the mission could potentially alter our view of the Solar System and our place in the universe.
JUICE will use gravity-assist flybys around the Earth and Venus to build up momentum to reach Jupiter since the spacecraft can’t carry enough fuel to fly straight to the planet. Scientists are expecting bursts of activity as early as six months after the launch.