A space probe has been successfully launched towards Jupiter’s mysterious icy moons

A space probe has been successfully launched towards Jupiter's mysterious icy moons

The live broadcast showed how the Ariane 5 rocket with Juice on board was successfully launched in French Guiana.ESA’s photo

At 14.14 Dutch time, Juice blasted off on a soundtrack of roaring rocket engines from the green forest around the European launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, toward black space. Destination: the icy moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede.

There are big scientific questions about Jupiter’s gas giant moons. For example, Europa with its oceans under the ice within our solar system is the most likely location for extraterrestrial life. Ganymede, in turn, is the largest moon, even larger than the planet Mercury. The celestial body, among other things, has a magnetic field that is unique to the Moon. The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, as the entire probe is called, should provide scientists with more insight into these matters and more.

About the author
George Van Hal writes about astronomy, physics, and space travel De Volkskrant. He has published books on everything from the universe to the smallest building blocks of reality.

The launch date was actually set for Thursday, but then the weather turned bad. Forecasts showed an increased chance of lightning strikes at the Kourou launch site. Mission Control then decided to cancel the launch 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time. However, the European Ariane 5 rocket managed to leave on Friday. It is the penultimate mission of the rocket, the current model for European spaceflight. After that, the successor should take over Aryan 6.

Solar panels unfold

The launch of the juice was a succession of exciting moments. First the departure from Earth and then – after half an hour – the separation of the last stage of the rocket and the delivery of the juice into space. Only after this succeeded, a resounding cheer rose up in Kuro’s control center. Around 3:30 p.m., the Dutch-manufactured solar panels were revealed, an essential step, because if that fails, the probe will run out of power.

The mission team will remain busy investigating in the coming days. For example, the antennas have yet to unfold, as well as the so-called magnetometer rod, with which they want to explore the magnetic field of Jupiter and Ganymede. The team will be testing the tools until around mid-July.

The journey to Jupiter and its moons is long. The probe won’t arrive until 2031, after going around Earth and the Moon (in 2024), Venus (2025), and then Earth two more times (in 2026 and 2029). With all those hits, Juice gets an extra boost due to the gravity of the orbs involved.

After arriving, Juice will continue to research the ice moons until at least September 2035. In the mission’s final leg, the probe will orbit Ganymede, marking the first time a human-made vehicle has entered orbit around a moon other than our own. At the end of the mission, Juice will send herself on a collision course with Ganymede with one last puff of fuel and crash into her.

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