Today, the much-anticipated JUICE Jupiter mission launches

Today, the European Space Agency will launch JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana at 10:15 pm.

JUICE will target three water-rich planets, Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Europa, to look for evidence of alien life on the surface and beneath it. These worlds are being targeted because they may be habitable to life as we know.

Jupiter’s moons

Jupiter is home to at least 92. Some of the largest Jovian Moons, such as the four Galilean Moons, formed with Jupiter in the early Solar System 4.5 billion years ago. This massive planet has attracted and captured many other moons, which have added to the collection.

The materials used to make these moons are extremely diverse, and it is believed that some of them could have been hospitable for life in the past.

Only two NASA missions have flown by Jupiter. The Galileo mission launched between 1995 and 2003, and the Juno mission, established in 2011, are the only ones to have done so. The only two tasks to make dedicated moon passes, gathering information for future missions.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft laid the foundation for the Juice mission and the Europa Clipper. ESA CC-BY-SA

The world as we know It

Galilean Moons are particularly interesting. It is the second-smallest moon in our Solar System. It may not be habitable, but it has some of the most active volcanoes on Earth. ).

It is believed that Ganymede and Europa have liquid water beneath their icy surface and possibly even thin atmospheres.

Ganymede has a liquid iron core that also gives it a field. It is the only moon known to have possessed one. Earth’s magnetic field shields us from solar radiation and protects the atmosphere from harsh solar winds. We associate these factors with the protection and promotion of life on Earth.

Sketch of magnetic field lines generated by the iron core in Ganymede. Hubble Space Telescope measurements suggest that the aurorae of Ganymede, which are influenced by magnetic field lines, may also be affected by a subsurface ocean. NASA, ESA and A. Feild(STScI).

When we search for life elsewhere (or for life that once existed), we look for the factors we consider important to life as we currently know it.

We are aiming for watery or icy planets since we know that life began on Earth in and around the ocean. Even better would be a rocky surface at warm temperatures. Jupiter is an absolute write-off. The crushing pressures and toxic gases, the freezing temperatures, and the lack of a stable surface will never allow life to exist as we know. The big, icy satellites are protected by ice and have elements such as carbon and oxygen.

JUICE’s suite of instruments will be used to measure the thickness of the icy crusts on the moons, determine what’s in them, and search for liquid water beneath the surface. It will be looking for organic molecules on Europa.

Read more: The search for life beneath the ice: why we’re going back to Europa

An extremely efficient journey

JUICE, a solar-powered spacecraft, will need nearly eight years after its launch to reach Jupiter. The spacecraft uses minimal propulsion and instead relies on other planets to set its course.

These maneuvers are known as ” gravity assist“. JUICE will intentionally fly toward a planet and miss it to be pulled in by the gravity of that planet. Then, JUICE can “slingshot past” the other side. Although it may take some time, the process is highly efficient.

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