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Heather Hunter


NextImg:Spacecraft heads to Jupiter to explore possible 'buried oceans' on its icy moons

The European Space Agency launched a robotic explorer on Friday on an Ariane rocket to explore Jupiter and three of its icy moons: Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa, for a decadelong journey.

The rocket took off on Friday morning from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana on the coast of South America. It will take the spacecraft eight years to reach the solar system’s largest planet. The robotic explorer is called the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer or Juice. It will travel 4 billion miles in this mission and won't reach Jupiter until July 2031.

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Scientists believe that Jupiter's icy moons possibly harbor underground oceans that could provide clues to the search for the existence of life.


No spacecraft has ever orbited a moon other than Earth's, making this robotic explorer's journey a historic orbit when it will orbit Jupiter's Ganymede. In 2021, NASA's Juno spacecraft performed a flyby of the largest moon in our solar system.

This June 7, 2021 image made available by NASA shows the Jovian moon Ganymede as the Juno spacecraft flies by. “This is the closest any spacecraft has come to this mammoth moon in a generation,” said Juno's lead scientist, Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS via AP)

The massive natural satellite Ganymede is less than half the size of Earth, and much of its mass is due to the high amounts of ice and silica-based rocks. It is the only moon in our solar system to have a magnetosphere, a magnetic field capable of mitigating or blocking the effects of solar radiation or cosmic radiation, which can help protect living organisms from the detrimental effects of solar wind pressure.

While Juice is targeting Jupiter's icy moons for its exploration, there are 95 moons orbiting Jupiter.

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“This is a mission that is answering questions of science that are burning to all of us,” Josef Aschbacher, European Space Agency’s director general, said. “Of course, one of these questions is: Is there life out there?”

Jupiter's moon Europa is reported to have water-vapor geysers erupting into space. The Callisto moon is believed to be a possible destination for humans because of its distance from the gas giant planet's radiation belts