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How the JUICE mission will look for habitability on Jupiter's moons
Space

How the JUICE mission will look for habitability on Jupiter's moons

Sep 6, 2023
Juice launch 14/04/2023 ESA?s latest interplanetary mission, Juice, lifted off on an?Ariane 5 rocket?from?Europe?s Spaceport?in French 09:14 local time/14:14CEST on 14 April 2023 to begin its eight-year journey to Jupiter, where it will study in detail the gas giant planet?s three large ocean-bearing moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Juice ? Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer ??is humankind?s next bold mission to the outer Solar System. This ambitious mission will?characterise Ganymede, Callisto and Europa with a powerful suite of remote sensing, geophysical and in situ instruments to discover more about these compelling destinations as potential habitats for past or present life. Juice will monitor Jupiter?s complex magnetic, radiation and plasma environment in depth and its interplay with the moons, studying the Jupiter system as an archetype for gas giant systems across the Universe. Following launch, Juice will embark on an eight-year journey to Jupiter, arriving in July 2031 with the aid of momentum and direction gained from four gravity-assist fly-bys of the Earth-Moon system, Venus and, twice, Earth. Flight VA260 is the final Ariane 5 flight to carry an ESA mission to space.

The European Space Agency’s JUICE probe launched in April this year

ESA/Stephane Corvaja

DECADES-LONG space missions are planned down to the second. The exact routes the craft travel through the solar system are meticulously mapped out, based on years of design and testing. If you want to deviate from these, you had better have a compelling reason.

But that is precisely what happened in 2005, during NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn. Upon seeing something unusual, Michele Dougherty, a physicist at Imperial College London, asked for a closer look at one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus. What the probe saw was incredible: massive plumes of water vapour erupting from cracks at the moon’s south pole.

Today, with Cassini long gone, Dougherty is looking forward to making further unusual discoveries, as the principal investigator on the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). This project, which launched in April, has a clear goal: to better understand whether Jupiter’s moons have the right ingredients to harbour life.

Jupiter has between 80 and 95 moons, but JUICE will focus on three of its four biggest. It will fly by Europa, Ganymede – the largest moon in the solar system – and Callisto, before going into orbit around Ganymede.

Michele Dougherty

Michele Dougherty

Nabil Nezzar

Dougherty tells New Scientist why we need to be open to the unexpected secrets that could lurk beneath the icy exteriors of these worlds and how she plans to reveal them.

Becca Caddy: How did it feel to change the course …

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