June 6, 2023

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Jupiter’s moons are the latest stop in the search for habitable worlds

Kourou (France) – The exploration of Jupiter’s icy moons by the European Space Agency’s “Juice” space probe, launched from the Kourou base in French Guiana, is a new stop in the search for habitable worlds outside the planet. Their ice caps cover the peaks. Beneath them lie vast oceans of liquid water that provide a fertile environment for life forms.

These environments are so far from the sun that astronomers have long excluded them from the part of the solar system considered habitable, which “until recently was confined to Mars,” astrophysicist Athena Kostinis, one of the science officials, told AFP. Study.

The Galileo probes (1995) aimed at Jupiter, and Cassini (2004) orbiting Saturn, pushed the boundaries of research that had not focused on these gas giant planets. The icy moons, Europa and Ganymede. Jupiter and Enceladus and Titan to Saturn.

These moons are characterized by vast oceans of liquid water beneath their icy surfaces, knowing that only water in its liquid form makes life possible on the surface of any celestial body.

“This is the first time we’ve explored possible habitats beyond the ice line,” said Nicolas Altobelli, head of the European Space Agency’s “Cass” mission, in an interview with Airbus in January in Toulouse. “The agency that designed the probe. Can’t record the presence of liquid water on the surface of a planet or moon.

NASA’s next mission, called Europa Clipper, will target Europa. As for the investigation, “Jose,” it will focus on Ganymede. Jose is scheduled to enter orbit around this moon in 2034, making it the largest moon in the solar system and the only moon with its own magnetic field that shields it from radiation.

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Large circumference

There are many characteristics that indicate the existence of a stable environment, which is another condition for the emergence and continuation of life forms, because as Athena Castinis emphasizes “what matters is not only that the place is habitable, but that life is possible” .

Unlike space missions to Mars, which look for traces of ancient, extinct life, the primary goal of exploring icy moons is to look for potentially habitable environments that Mars has yet to demonstrate.

Another requirement for life is the presence of an energy source. In the freezing temperatures of the Jupiter system, the source of energy is not the Sun, but Jupiter’s gravitational pull on its moons, causing “tidal effects” similar to what happens on Earth with the Moon.