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

At 2:14 p.m., Juice blasted out from the verdant jungle surrounding the European launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, to the soundtrack of rocket-propelled engines in black space. Destination: Ice 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 the 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.

The launch was supposed to take place on Thursday, but was postponed due to weather. Forecasts showed an increased chance of lightning strikes at the Kourou launch site. Mission control then decided to cancel the launch ten minutes before the scheduled departure time. However, the European Ariane 5 rocket managed to leave on Friday. This is the rocket’s second and final mission, the current version of 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. At about 3:55 p.m., the solar panels will open, an essential step because the probe will run out of power if it fails.

The mission team will continue to work on the investigation in the coming days. For example, the antennas and the rod of the so-called magnetometer, with which the magnetic field of Jupiter and Ganymede will be checked, will still have to be opened. 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 twice as far as Earth (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 searching for 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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Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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