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article imageOp-Ed: Jupiter’s moons give better chances in finding life than Mars

By Eko Armunanto     May 28, 2013 in Technology
A new mission called JUICE may give better chances in finding life elsewhere in the Solar System as actual living organisms, compared to the desiccated and irradiated remnants of long dead microbes that scientists hope to find on the Red Planet
The closest findings to what space scientists termed Alien Civilization have been reported last week telling about the discovery of another water-weathered rock in Mars, an insinuation that the Red Planet could have supported life in its ancient past. Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon in the powder drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month. "A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, NASA's lead scientist for Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."
A new mission called JUICE, by European Space Agency (ESA), may however give better chances in finding life elsewhere in the Solar System, as actual living organisms – not the desiccated and irradiated remnants of long dead microbes that scientists hope to find on the Red Planet. JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer), aimed at launching in 2022, will spend at least three years studying Jupiter’s moons for signs of life. It will be launched from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. JUICE is the first large-class mission chosen as part of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program.
What’s in Jupiter’s moons that attract scientists in their space explorations? Jupiter has amazingly dozens of moons and enormous magnetic field “to form a kind of miniature solar system,” as NASA puts it. Jupiter's four largest moons are named Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – each of them is a distinctive world. Those four moons were discovered by Galileo, so then called The Galilean Satellites. More than just “have water”, Jupiter’s moon Europa is thought to have water twice as much as does Earth. This moon intrigues astrobiologists because of its potential for having a habitable zone. Its interior is hot which keeps the water comparatively warm and pulsing like rivers on Earth, or even waving like ocean.
“If that doesn’t sound like a place that could cook up life, nothing does”, says Michael D. Lemonick on TIME. He said the only ingredients missing to make Europa’s ocean a potential home to living things have been salt and organic compounds – but now, according to a study about to be published in The Astronomical Journal, they’re not missing anymore. A dip in the waters of Europa, the paper concludes, could be very much like a dip in our oceans, perhaps with all the biology that implies.
With a diameter of over 4,800 km (2,985 miles), Callisto is the third largest satellite in the solar system and is almost the size of Mercury. The core of its interior is surrounded by a large icy mantle. Its surface is the darkest of the Galileans, but still twice as bright as our Earth’s Moon. It is the most heavily cratered object in the solar system and thought to be a long dead world, with hardly any geologic activity on its surface. With a surface age of about 4 billion years, Callisto has the oldest landscape in the solar system.
Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Io's surface is covered by sulfur in different colorful forms. As Io travels in its slightly elliptical orbit, Jupiter's immense gravity causes tides in the solid surface that rise 100 m (300 feet) high on Io, generating enough heat for volcanic activity and to drive off any water. Io's volcanoes are driven by hot silicate magma.
The largest satellite in our solar system is Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. It’s larger than Mercury and Pluto, and three-quarters the size of Mars. If Ganymede orbited the sun instead of orbiting Jupiter, it would easily be classified as a planet. It has a sphere of metallic iron at the center (the core, which generates a magnetic field), a spherical shell of rock (mantle) surrounding the core, and a spherical shell of mostly ice surrounding the rock shell and the core. The ice shell on the outside is very thick, maybe 800 km (497 miles) thick. The surface is the very top of the ice shell
“The JUICE mission will study the moons as potential habitats for life, addressing two key themes of Cosmic Vision: what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life, and how does the Solar System work,” says ESA explaining the mission.
The JUICE was selected by ESA over two other candidates: NGO, the New Gravitational wave Observatory, to hunt for gravitational waves, and ATHENA, the Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophysics. "The selection process has been challenging given the excellent quality of the three mission candidates, and I would like to thank the Space Science Advisory Committee for its hard work and for having carried out this very challenging process in a very rigorous way," says the Chair of ESA’s Science Program Committee, Dr Richard Bonneville.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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