Moon juice (1/26/23)
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Attempt No Landing There
Europa. Image: NASA
A mission set to explore the distant, icy moons of Jupiter is go for launch.
This week, Airbus announced that the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE, at a stretch) mission is fully assembled in Toulouse, France, and is undergoing final testing before it’s shipped to French Guiana ahead of a planned launch in April.
The Jovian moons: Three of Jupiter’s four largest moons—Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa—are covered in thick layers of ice that may conceal expansive oceans. Europa has been a particularly popular target for planetary scientists hunting for life elsewhere in the solar system.
There has not yet been a science mission dedicated to studying the Jovian moons in detail since Galileo, which was destroyed in 2003. The New Horizons spacecraft made a flyby on its way to Pluto, and the Juno spacecraft has been performing flybys of the moons since completing its nominal mission studying Jupiter.
Info-gathering: To collect the amount of information scientists are hoping to scrape from an exploration of Jupiter’s icy moons, engineers had to equip the spacecraft with a slew of instruments. Those aboard JUICE include:
Janus, a high-resolution visual telescope, as well as infrared and ultraviolet imagers
A laser altimeter and radar sounder for mapping the moons’ surfaces and subsurfaces
A magnetometer to explore the moons’ magnetic fields and their interactions with Jupiter
A particle sensor
A radio and plasma wave instrument
What’s next? The JUICE mission is currently expected to launch in April. Don’t expect any observations in the near future, though—the journey to the Jovian system will take more than seven years to complete. Once it arrives, JUICE will spend nearly four years performing flybys of the three icy moons and collecting as much data as possible.
Better together: JUICE isn’t the only planned mission dedicated to studying the Jovian moons. NASA's Clipper mission, currently scheduled for launch in 2024, will trail JUICE to the king of planets and conduct a dedicated survey of Europa, searching for places beneath the icy crust that may be able to sustain life.
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Other News from the Cosmos
Later today, the newly discovered, 12-to-28-foot-wide asteroid 2023 BU will pass within 2,200 miles of the Earth’s surface.
Asteroids made of rubble and dust are quite difficult to destroy because they resist impacts like a “giant space cushion.”
Lucy, NASA’s asteroid probe, announced a new observation target.
Gold mining in Brazil causes long-lasting deforestation and water contamination, as explored in a recent case study from EOS Data Analytics.
A new model for explaining dark matter suggests that its interactions with other matter may have increased abruptly at some point after the Big Bang.
JWST created an inventory of the deepest and coldest ices ever identified within a molecular cloud. These ices included water, carbonyl sulfide, ammonia, methane, and methanol.
Small plasma thrusters could generate more thrust than previously expected, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.
HERA, i.e., the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array, has doubled in sensitivity, the team reports.
The Earth’s inner core may have slowed or stopped spinning, a Peking University study found.
NASA created a Mars Sample Receiving program office.
Io is erupting in some weird ways.
💡 Lights off: The universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. The negative pressure that is causing that acceleration is called “dark energy,” and astronomers believe it makes up as much as 70% of the universe. In a Popular Mechanics interview, cosmologist Luz Ángela García answers ten pressing questions about the nature of dark energy.
🌌 Breaking rules: When JWST started sending images home last June, it quickly revealed the oldest galaxies we’ve been able to get eyes on yet, dating from a mere 330M years after the Big Bang. The discovery of such huge galaxies so early in our universe’s history had some people doubting that the standard model of cosmology held up. As Rebecca Boyle writes for Quanta Magazine, the model holds true—but there’s still plenty to learn about the way galaxies form based on these observations.
👽 The truly alien: Astronomers began the search for life on other planets by searching for the most Earth-like exoplanets and known biosignatures. But what if life on other planets looks nothing like the life we know on Earth? For Scientific American’s February issue, reporter Sarah Scoles dives into how scientists approach looking for life as we *don’t* know it.
The View from Space
The bright variable star V 372 Orionis. Image: Hubble/ESA/NASA