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Preparing for lift-off: DIAS scientists contribute to ESA mission to explore Jupiter and its moons

UPDATE 14.04.2023 The mission launch was postponed on Thursday 13 April due to weather conditions but successfully launched from Kourou at lunchtime today.

(11.04.2023) A team of three researchers from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) have played a key role in the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission scheduled to launch on Thursday, 13th April.

The three researchers, who will travel to the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany for the launch, include Dr. Mika Holmberg, Co-Investigator; Prof. Caitriona Jackman, Associated Scientist; and Dr. Corentin Louis, Associated Scientist. 

The JUICE mission aims to make detailed observations of Jupiter, as well as its three large moons, Callisto, Europa and Ganymede – some of which are believed to have oceans below their surfaces. 

In a series of solar-system firsts, JUICE is the first ever mission with a particular focus on studying the potential for alien life in the outer solar system, it is the first European-lead mission to the outer solar system, and it will also be the first spacecraft to go into orbit around a moon other than Earth’s moon.

Irish Involvement

The Irish contribution to JUICE is through DIAS’ Planetary Magnetospheres Research Group, which is led by Prof. Caitriona Jackman. As part of their work on the mission, the group is involved with the Radio and Plasma Wave Instrument (RPWI) – one of ten state-of-the-art instruments that will be carried by JUICE.

The instrument will characterise the radio emission and plasma environment of Jupiter and its icy moons. DIAS’ work on this is funded by Science Foundation Ireland and a European Space Agency fellowship held by Dr. Mika Holmberg. The group’s expertise includes studying how spacecraft can become electrically charged as they orbit in space. They work closely with engineers at ESA and scientists around the world to maximise the scientific output of the complex spacecraft instrumentation. Once at Jupiter, instruments like RPWI will help to measure the saltiness of oceans under the moons which is key for understanding if they can support life. It will also look for evidence of atmospheres at the moons.

Commenting in advance of the launch, Prof. Caitriona Jackman, Associated Scientist and Head of the Planetary Magnetospheres Research Group at DIAS, said “This is a very exciting mission to be a part of as it will help to expand our knowledge of the existence of life in our solar system and the habitats of these moons.  

“We are on the verge of enormous breakthroughs in our understanding of the Jupiter system. Several of the moons that JUICE will study are the most likely candidates for habitability in our solar system beyond Earth, so we are hopeful that this mission will help bring us closer to answering one of the most important questions that is facing humanity today – if we are alone in the Universe.

“After years of work from scientists across the world, we are excited to finally be at the launch stage. Members of the Planetary group at DIAS have been working extremely hard to ensure we maximise the scientific output of this mission and we look forward to being amazed by the new views it will give us of this wonderful gas giant planet and its exotic ocean worlds. It will be very special to have such cutting edge data arriving in Ireland for the first time.”

Commenting on DIAS’s involvement with the mission, Dr. Eucharia Meehan, CEO and Registrar of DIAS said: “It is a fantastic achievement for our DIAS researchers to be involved in such a ground-breaking mission, which is expected to provide us with crucial insights about our Universe.

“DIAS has a long history in being at the forefront of Ireland’s involvement in cutting-edge space research, most recently with the Webb Space Telescope, and now our contribution to the JUICE mission. We are very proud of the work of our researchers, and we are looking forward to seeing the first images from the spacecraft in a few months’ time.”   

The JUICE Mission is being led by the European Space Agency, of which Ireland is a member state. 18 different research institutes, 23 countries, 83 different companies and more than 2000 people have contributed to the mission.

JUICE will be launched on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Ariane 5 has been in operation since 1996 and has launched many ESA space science missions, the most recent being the Webb Space Telescope, which DIAS was also involved in. 

Further Information about the DIAS involvement in the JUICE mission can be found here: https://www.dias.ie/cosmicphysics/astrophysics/astro-Juice/