‘Juicy’ Mission

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‘Juicy’ Mission

The planet Jupiter is hiding. It lines up especially close to the Sun, so it’s hidden in the glare. It won’t return to view for a few weeks. But European scientists and engineers know exactly where it is. In fact, they’re getting ready to send a spacecraft toward it this month. It’ll arrive in 2031 to study Jupiter’s three largest moons.

JUICE — short for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer — is the most ambitious mission to Jupiter so far. While it orbits Jupiter, it’ll make a total of 26 passes by the moons Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. Then it’ll settle into orbit around Ganymede — the first spacecraft to orbit any moon other than our own.

Scientists are interested in the moons because they’re thought to have oceans of liquid water below their icy crusts. And each of the oceans is thought to hold several times more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined. That means the moons are possible habitats for life.

Europa is considered the best candidate. There could be fountains of hot, mineral-laden water jetting from its interior into the ocean. That would provide the main ingredients for life: water, the right chemistry, and energy.

Because of the shape of its orbit, JUICE will swing past Europa only twice. But its instruments will look for thin spots in the ice and jets of water squirting through the ice. They’ll also peek into the top layers of ice — another first for a “juicy” mission.

More tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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