Lift-off! Europe’s space agency launches mission to search for life on Jupiter’s moons


Watch this space in remarkable search for life

Tom Clarke

Science and technology editor


After years of planning, a decade of building, and a 24-hour launch delay, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer is finally on its way.

Launch was flawless, but Juice has a very long way to go.

Getting to Jupiter involves an eight-year-long four-billion-mile slow waltz through the solar system.

Several orbits of the Sun, a slingshot around the moon and Earth, and another round Venus, will see it arriving in 2031.

And when it gets there it will endure the intense radiation caused by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field, and low light levels 600 million miles further away from the Sun than we are.

But Juice is built to cope with that.

A suite of 10 scientific instruments will allow it to make the most detailed investigations ever of Jupiter’s largest moons: Ganymede, Europa and Callisto.

A camera will photograph their surfaces, and radars and magnetometers will allow scientists to peer into the ice – which is kilometres thick – which covers them, and infer what might be going on in the warm, salty oceans believed to exist beneath.

Could life, like that found around deep sea vents on Earth, exist hidden within Jupiter’s mighty moons? Or are we all alone?

Well, watch this space.

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