Could we find conditions for life in the solar system that are similar to those on Earth?
The space mission JUICE will try to solve this mystery. The spacecraft was originally scheduled to launch from Kourou in French Guiana on Thursday, 13 April 2023 early afternoon. However, bad weather has forced the launch to be moved to Friday, .
European Space Agency has brought together not less than 13 European nations, along with the United States of America, Japan and Israel, to propel this mission towards a planet more than 600,000,000 km away. The agency also achieved the feat of putting JUICE onto the launch pad just 11 years after it was approved. The Covid pandemic did slow down the process, but it was only by nine months. The team of France, which includes me, also helped develop 6 of JUICE’s 10 state-of-the art scientific instruments. The probe will arrive in the Jovian System in 2031.
Stretching the boundaries of science
Jupiter is the largest planet of our solar system, and also the one with the greatest number of moons. Estimates of their number range between 82 and 95. Most of them have been discovered within the past two decades.
Jupiter’s turbulent atmospheric. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS, Kevin M. Gill, CC BY
JUICE was the first mission funded by more than one billion euros as part of ESA’s CosmicVision program. It aims to answer four key questions:
How does life and planets form?
What is the Solar System?
What are the basic laws of physics that govern the universe?
What is the current universe made of, and how did it come to be?
JUICE was selected ahead of other missions proposed because it addressed the first and final questions.
By observing or deducing, NASA’s Hubble Space telescope, Voyager, and Galileo space probes, Juno, have already gathered some clues.
Ocean moons contain more water than Earth
NASA’s Galileo discovered water in the moons for the first time in 1995. The data captured by the probe revealed that there are huge liquid oceans under the crusts on Callisto’s three icy satellites, Europa, Ganymede and Io.
Hubble’s Space Telescope found geysers on Europa in 2014. The bases of the geysers appeared caked in salts including carbonates. Europa is likely to meet the criteria of habitability.
The four elements of Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen (CHON) are the symbols for the major chemical elements that make up living organisms.
Water that is liquid and acts as a solvant.
The energy that enables the development of living things.
A stable environment (orbits, rotation, average temperatures…)
The Galilean Moons also enjoy the gravitational power of Jupiter. This creates a significant tidal effect and allows the two last conditions to be met.
Why Ganymede should be the main goal
JUICE will study Ganymede in greater depth than Callisto or Europa. It is not just because it’s the largest satellite in the Solar System. It also has its own magnetic field. Ganymede, like Earth’s magnetosphere, has the ability to protect life from cosmic rays by diverting them away from Jupiter’s Radiation Belts.