JUICE Mission: Exploring Jupiter's Icy Moons for Signs of Life - A Voz de Pramod!

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Sunday, March 19, 2023

JUICE Mission: Exploring Jupiter's Icy Moons for Signs of Life


This article was originally written in Konkani for ARSO- Konkani Monthly and published in March 2023. Here, I present an English version of the article for my blog readers. The content remains the same, but the language has been adapted for English-speaking audiences. I hope you enjoy reading it!

It is now time to unveil one of the most significant plans in the history of the European Space Agency (ESA). This marks the first time that ESA will be launching a spacecraft outside of Mars. Additionally, no other planetary moon has been installed as a satellite, except for our Moon. However, ESA is now poised to set an example by launching the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission, also known as JUICE. The mission's objective is to explore Jupiter and take a closer look at its icy moons, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. These moons were initially discovered by Galileo using a telescope about four centuries ago. Scientists hypothesize that there is a significant amount of liquid water underneath the crust of these three moons, which could potentially harbor life or things related to living organisms. The JUICE spacecraft has been designed specifically for this mission and is set to launch this coming April.

Water is a vital component for life, but its mere presence does not necessarily mean the existence of life. Other factors such as energy and stability are also necessary. Interestingly, there are many places in our solar system that have more water than Earth. For example, Jupiter's moon Ganymede is 46 percent liquid water, and Europa has 16 percent. To study these moons, the European Space Agency (ESA) has launched a spacecraft called JUICE, which is set to arrive at Jupiter in July 2031. To reach its destination, JUICE will have to travel using gravitational force, making flybys of Europa and Callisto before settling into an orbit around Ganymede in 2034. This will be the first time a satellite from Earth reaches a moon outside our planet. JUICE will spend a year studying Ganymede before finally crashing into it in 2035. The mission aims to gain insight into the moons' geology and search for signs of life, as scientists believe that there may be liquid water under the icy surfaces of these moons.

JUICE, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, features large solar panels that measure 85 square meters. This is the first time in history that such a large solar panel has been installed on a spacecraft. The reason for this is that when the spacecraft is traveling near Jupiter's moons, there is very little heat and sunlight, so it must generate as much electrical power as possible on the way there. JUICE also features 10 modern equipment, including infrared, visible, and ultraviolet cameras of various wavelengths, sensors, spectrometers, and radar equipment, which can detect ice within 10-15 kilometers. The mission's purpose is not to search for life, as that is not currently feasible, but rather to investigate the potential for habitability and the presence of vital components that could support life.

Another mission that is being planned to study Jupiter's moon is the Clipper spacecraft, which is being sent by NASA in 2024. The powerful Falcon rocket of SpaceX will be used to launch it, and it is expected to arrive a year before the JUICE spacecraft. The Clipper mission is focused on studying Europa and is a complementary mission to the JUICE mission. The main aim of this mission is not to search for life in Europa's seas, but rather to collect data that can help in future exploration of the moon. There is a collaborative effort between ESA and NASA, where the data received by JUICE will inform the Clipper mission. The ultimate goal is to drill down into Europa's surface to explore the possibility of life, which may take another 20-30 years to accomplish.

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