The Search for Life on Jupiter's Icy Moons

Could there be life on one of Jupiter's moons? The European Space Agency is hoping to find out.

The ESA will send the JUICE space probe to Jupiter to study three of its moons, Europa, Calliso, and Ganymede. A key objective of the mission is to study the potential for life, and because these three moons have internal liquid water oceans, they are considered, uh, JUICEy targets.

In addition, JUICE, which stands for Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, will study Jupiter's atmosphere and magnetosphere, and the interaction of the Galilean moons with the gas giant.

The ESA is hoping to launch the probe in 2022 on an Ariane 5 carrier rocket, with arrival at the Jovian system scheduled for 2030. By 2033 JUICE should enter orbit around Ganymde once it completes various maneuvers around Jupiter and the other moons.

The newly announced mission is a reformulation of the Jupiter Ganymede orbiter proposal, which was to be ESA's component of the former Europa Jupiter System Mission-Laplace (EJSM-Laplace). It's also a candidate to become the first L-class mission (i.e. a collaborative program) of the ESA Cosmic Vision program, their long term strategy for the period 2015 to 2025.

JUICE will perform a detailed investigation of Ganymede as a planetary body and evaluate its potential to support life. Its flybys around Europa and Callisto will be part of a comparative analysis of those moons. The primary goals for the Ganymede and Callisto missions include:

- Scanning the ocean layers and detecting subsurface water reservoirs
- Topographical, geological and compositional mapping of the surface
- Studying the physical properties of the icy crusts
- Analyzing the internal mass distribution, dynamics and evolution of the interiors
- Investigating the exosphere
- Studying Ganymede's intrinsic magnetic field and its interactions with the Jovian magnetosphere

As for Europa, JUICE's focus will be on scanning for the chemistry essential to life, including organic molecules, and in understanding the formation of surface features and the composition of the non water-ice material. It's also hoped that JUICE will provide the first subsurface sounding of the moon, including the first determination of the minimal thickness of the icy crust over the most recently active regions.

Via. Image via ESA/AOES.