European Mission: Can Life Exist on Jupiter's Moons?

JUICE probe will launch in 2022

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted May 3, 2012 2:10 AM CDT

(Newser) – The first Europe-led mission to the outer solar system will explore the icy moons of Jupiter. The European Space Agency approved the JUICE—JUpiter ICy moons Explorer—mission yesterday. The project's solar-powered spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2022 and arrive in the Jovian system by 2030 to spend three years exploring the moons Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa, all of which are believed to have liquid oceans hidden below their icy surfaces, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

The mission's main target will be Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, although researchers believe life is possible on all three icy moons. "There are four conditions required for life to form. You need water; you need an energy source—so the ice can become liquid; you need the right chemistry—nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen; and the fourth thing you need is stability—a length of time that allows life to form," a JUICE team member tells the BBC. "The great thing about the icy moons in the Jupiter system is that we think those four conditions might exist there; and JUICE will tell us if that is the case."

Jupiter's moon Ganymede, lower right, is the largest moon in the solar system and has its own magnetic field.   (AP Photo/NASA/HUBBLE)
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