The ESA's $1.75 billion Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft was launched Thursday, April 13, from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. It is projected to enter Jupiter's orbit in July 2031.
"We would like to see whether there are places around Jupiter where life could have started. We need to find a place with internal energy and liquid water," said JUICE project scientist Olivier Witasse. "With the icy moons of Jupiter, we have good reasons to believe that there is more water [there] than on Earth."
The highest reserves of water happen to exist on worlds very far from Earth, which is in deep space and in orbit around Jupiter and Saturn. The notion that the best hopes of discovering alien life rest with studies of ice-coated moons in deep space would have appeared absurd a few decades ago.
Initially, Venus and Mars – planets on the sides of Earth – would serve as the best hopes of finding alien life. However, a space probe found that Venus had a surface temperature of 475 C (887 F), hot enough to melt lead. Meanwhile, the Red Planet was discovered to have lost its atmosphere and surface water billions of years ago.
Carried aboard an Ariane 5 launcher, the JUICE spacecraft will examine three of Jupiter's icy moons – Callisto, Europa and Ganymede. The latter, which is larger than the planet Mercury, is the only moon in the solar system with its own magnetic field.
After a string of visits to Callisto and Europa, JUICE will enter into a fixed orbit around Ganymede in 2034 – the first time a space probe has ever held an orbit around a moon other than Earth's moon. JUICE's set of instruments will explore Ganymede's ocean to find out its depth, distance from the surface and composition. The ESA space probe will spend eight months orbiting Ganymede, getting as close as 125 miles from the moon while protected from radiation.
Alongside the ESA's JUICE mission, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also plans to launch its Europa Clipper probe. Schedule to launch in October 2024, it will take a shorter route by using flybys of Earth and Mars. It is set to arrive at Uranus by April 2030, more than a year earlier than the JUICE probe.
While the JUICE probe will focus on Ganymede, the Europa Clipper will focus on the Europa moon. It is expected to make 50 nearby approaches, flying a few hundred miles over its surface to identify areas that could support life. (Related: Alien life may exist in Jupiter's moon Europa and other frozen worlds.)
Earlier U.S. satellites found that the ice on three Jovian moons covered enormous oceans of liquid water, the one necessity required for the existence of life on Earth. Jovian moons are classified as moons because they orbit Jupiter, but they might be called planets due to their size if they were to orbit the sun on their own.
It was also found in 2005 that Enceladus, Saturn's sixth-largest moon, is sprinkling water and organic material into space from a subterranean ocean.
"If ever there was a next-best place to look for life, it's here," said American astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson on the subject of these icy moons.
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Watch this video explaining why life on Jupiter is possible following the discovery of water in the planet's clouds.
This video is from the CleanTV channel on Brighteon.com.