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JUICE: a mission to explore the Jupiter’s system

For a press release about the launch of the mission visit this weblink.

On 14 April 2023 the European Space Agency launched the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), the first European mission to explore Jupiter and three large ocean bearing moons. The moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto are all suspected to hold water oceans under their thick icy surfaces that might host life. JUICE will study the moon’s abilities to support life by investigating their atmospheres, surfaces and interiors. Furthermore, by entering an orbit around Ganymede in 2034, JUICE will become the first spacecraft to orbit a moon other than Earth’s Moon. Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system, and the only one with its own magnetic field. In addition to studying its ocean, JUICE will investigate the origin of Ganymede’s mysterious magnetic field and the complex interaction with Jupiter’s magnetic field.

After its launch JUICE will use a series of gravitational assists of the planets in the solar system to slingshot itself towards Jupiter: first a flyby of the Earth-Moon system in August 2024, then a flyby of Venus in August 2025, followed by a second flyby of Earth in September 2026 and finally a third flyby of Earth in January 2029.

JUICE is scheduled to arrive in the Jupiter system in July 2031, with a first flyby of Ganymede before the Jupiter insertion orbit. The spacecraft will remain in orbit around Jupiter until December 2034, making two flybys of Europa and multiple of Ganymede and Callisto, as well as Jupiter’s poles. In December 2034, JUICE will move into an orbit around Ganymede, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a moon other than Earth’s Moon. Finally, at the end of 2035, JUICE is scheduled to end its mission by impacting to the surface of Ganymede.

DIAS Connection

DIAS is contributing to JUICE by developing methods to correct for measurement errors, by studying radio emissions to reveal the atmospheres of the moons and developing techniques to monitor erupting water plumes. The work is led by Professor Caitriona Jackman and her team in the Planetary Magnetospheres Group of the DIAS Astronomy & Astrophysics Section.

In order to fulfill its scientific objectives the JUICE instruments need to provide highly accurate measurements. However, the bombardment of the JUICE spacecraft by electrically charged particles present in the environment of the moons will create measurement errors. The team at DIAS develop methods to correct and minimize these measurement errors, by simulating how the spacecraft is interacting with its space environment, and determining how this interaction creates the errors.

Furthermore, the moons of Jupiter are thought to have their own atmospheres. However, little is known about the structure and origin of these atmospheres. At DIAS we are preparing special radio measurements with JUICE that will reveal properties of the moon’s atmospheres. Jupiter’s spectacular auroral regions emit radio waves and when JUICE flies by a moon it will ‘listen’ to these auroral radio emissions with the RPWI instrument. DIAS research shows that the atmosphere of the moons could prevent some of the radio emissions to be ‘heard’ by JUICE, thereby revealing the structure of the atmosphere. Predictions of measurements of these radio emissions allow us to choose the best mode of operation for the JUICE instruments, to maximize the possibility of studying the atmospheres. In order to study the radio emissions DIAS researchers are collaborating with other institutes, such as the Observatoire de Paris (France) and the European Space Astronomy Centre (Madrid, Spain).

Europa, Ganymede and Callisto interact with Jupiter’s magnetic field and electrically charged particles that have been accelerated to high speeds by that magnetic field. The study of this complex interaction has previously revealed the existence of the oceans and possible water plumes on Europa. These plumes could provide us with extremely valuable samples of the underground ocean that might support life. DIAS researchers are working to advance our understanding of the interaction of Jupiter’s moon with Jupiter’s magnetosphere (the magnetic bubble surrounding Jupiter), in order to reveal more of the moons’ mysteries. 

Little is known about Europa’s water plumes, including their precise locations and the time of the eruptions. Therefore, DIAS researchers are investigating strategies to monitor the activity of plumes remotely, and to sample them during the close flybys of Europa. When electrically charged particles inside Jupiter’s magnetic bubble interact with the gas of the plume, complex interactions are initiated that could reveal the presence of a plume.

Speaking about the launch scheduled for April 2023, Professor Caitriona Jackman said: “We are on the verge of enormous breakthroughs in our understanding of the Jupiter system. Several of the moons which JUICE will study are the most likely candidates for habitability in our solar system beyond Earth. Members of the Planetary group at DIAS are working 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 amazing gas giant and its exotic ocean worlds. It will be very special to have such cutting edge data arriving in Ireland for the first time.”