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NASA Joins Europe for Exploration of Jupiter's Icy Moons: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto





NASA has selected key contributions to a 2022 European Space Agency (ESA) mission that will study Jupiter and three of its largest moons in unprecedented detail. The moons are thought to harbor vast water oceans beneath their icy surfaces. The mission will explore the conditions for planet formation and emergence of life. By studying the Jupiter system, JUICE will look to learn more about the formation and evolution of potentially habitable worlds in our solar system and beyond.  

Jupiter’s diverse Galilean moons – volcanic Io, icy Europa and rock-ice Ganymede and Callisto – make the Jovian system a miniature Solar System in its own right. Ganymede is the only moon in the Solar System known to generate its own magnetic field. JUICE will observe the unique magnetic and plasma interactions with Jupiter’s magnetosphere in detail.

“Jupiter is the archetype for the giant planets of the Solar System and for many giant planets being found around other stars,” says Prof. Alvaro Giménez Cañete, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

Under the lead of Lorenzo Bruzzone of Università degli Studi di Trento and the Italian Space Agency, JPL will provide the transmitter and receiver hardware for a radar sounder designed to penetrate the icy crust of Jupiter's moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto to a depth of about 5 miles (9 kilometers). This will allow scientists to see for the first time the underground structure of these tectonically complex and unique icy worlds.

The spacecraft will orbit Jupiter for three years and travel past Callisto and Europa multiple times, then orbit Ganymede, a moon larger than the planet Mercury. JUICE will conduct the first thorough exploration of Jupiter since NASA's Galileo mission from 1989-2003.

"NASA is thrilled to collaborate with ESA on this exciting mission to explore Jupiter and its icy moons," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "Working together with ESA and our other international partners is key to enabling future scientific progress in our quest to understand the cosmos."

The solar-powered spacecraft will carry cameras and spectrometers, a laser altimeter and an ice-penetrating radar instrument. The mission also will carry a magnetometer, plasma and particle monitors, and radio science hardware. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the Jupiter system in 2030.

In addition to the radar team and instrument, the NASA contributions are:

 -- Ultraviolet Spectrometer: The principal investigator is Randy Gladstone of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. This spectrometer will acquire images to explore the surfaces and atmospheres of Jupiter's icy moons and how they interact with the Jupiter environment. The instrument also will determine how Jupiter's upper atmosphere interacts with its lower atmosphere below, and the ionosphere and magnetosphere above. The instrument will provide images of the aurora on Jupiter and Ganymede.

-- Particle Environment Package: The principal investigator is Stas Barabash of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics. The U.S. lead is Pontus Brandt of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. Under the lead of Barabash and the Swedish National Space Board, APL will provide instruments to this suite to measure the neutral material and plasma that are accelerated and heated to extreme levels in Jupiter's fierce and complex magnetic environment.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/JPLImage credit: A composite image showing [L-R] the icy moons Europa, Ganymede, & Callisto. NASA.


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