ESA's Juice probe successfully deployed on its way to Jupiter

The European Space Agency's Juice probe has successfully deployed on its way to study Jupiter's icy moons.
John Loeffler
An artist's impression of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer
An artist's impression of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer

ESA / ATG medialab 

The European Space Agency's new Jupiter probe has successfully deployed on its way to study the enigmatic icy moons of the king of planets.

The new Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) launched six weeks ago, and much like the James Webb Space Telescope, Juice was specially packaged up for launch, requiring a complex deployment of its tools and instruments.

The process has taken several weeks, including deploying solar panels to power the probe, antennas to communicate with mission controllers on Earth, and the actual instruments that will study whether some of the moons of Jupiter might host life.

“It’s been an exhausting but very exciting six weeks,” Angela Dietz, deputy spacecraft operations manager for the Juice mission, said in an ESA statement. “We have faced and overcome various challenges to get Juice into the right shape for getting the best science out of its trip to Jupiter.”

Along the way, Juice has been taking selfies to show mission controllers the status of the various deployments of the probe's 10 instruments. Now that deployment is complete, the instruments will be turned on, one by one, to check to ensure that they are all working as intended.

"This powerful instrument package will collect data that helps us answer questions like: What are Jupiter’s ocean worlds like? Why is Ganymede so unique? Could there be – or ever have been – life in the Jupiter system? How has Jupiter’s complex environment shaped its moons, and vice versa? What is a typical gas giant planet like – how did it form, and how does it work?" the ESA said.

What's next for Juice?

In just over a year from now, Juice will attempt a world-first lunar-Earth gravity assisted maneuver to propel it toward Jupiter. From there, it will take several years to reach Jupiter, with an expected arrival in July 2031.

Juice will then go on a initial tour of Jupiter and its moons between July 2031 and November 2034 before entering orbit around the moon Ganymede. Ganymede is of special interest for astronomers for many reasons, not the least of which is it being the largest moon in the solar system.

It's thought that there is a saltwater ocean below the icy surface of the moon, and liquid water is a key requirement for life as we know it. If life has developed in darkness below the icy crust of the moon, it will almost certainly be unlike anything we've seen here on Earth. Or maybe not, considering that we know so little about what lives in the deepest reaches of the ocean.

Either way, we've got some time to speculate.

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