JUICE illustration

In 2023 the European Space Agency will launch a mission ‘JUICE’ to explore the icy moons of Jupiter. What does it aim to discover?

Professor Michele Dougherty CBE FRS – Royal Society Research Professor, Head of Dept. of Physics, Imperial College London; Principal Investigator for the magnetometer on the European Space Agency’s Juice mission.

JUICE – JUpiter ICy moons Explorer – is planned for launch in April 2023. It will spend at least three years making detailed observations of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and three of its largest moons, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

Iconic missions to the outer solar system like Voyager 1 and 2, Galileo, and Cassini gave us a close look at the giant planets’ largest moons. Once thought of as inactive, cold conglomerates of ice and rock, we know that these distant moons are planet-like worlds with rich histories. While our search for life in the universe was once restricted to Earth-like planets, with terrestrial atmospheres and surface oceans, such icy moons with potentially habitable underground oceans offer new horizons.

Jupiter’s three largest icy moons — Europa, Ganymede and Callisto — all show hints of hosting liquid water oceans beneath their crusts. On Earth, life thrives in the deepest, darkest parts of our oceans near hydrothermal vents. Could life similarly evolve or survive in the oceans floors of these moons? The European Space Agency’s (ESA) boldest mission to date aims to find out.

Professor Dougherty is head of the Physics Department and a Royal Society Research Professor at Imperial.  She was principal investigator for the Cassini spacecraft magnetic field measurements throughout Cassini spacecraft operations around Saturn and its neighbourhood. Amongst a series of remarkable results, she was, in particular, responsible for the discovery of geysers from an ocean below the surface of the Saturn moon Enceladus due to their electromagnetic signature.  The discovery changed our entire perspective on the Saturn system and even where life might evolve in the solar system.  She received the Royal Society’s Hughes Medal in 2008.

Following her Enceladus discoveries, Michele played a major part in initiating the European Space Agency’s JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer Mission). She is the Principal Investigator for its magnetometer and was awarded a Royal Society Research Professorship in 2014 enabling her to focus on her research throughout this important space mission.

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