Sciency Words A to Z: JUICE

Welcome to a special A to Z Challenge edition of Sciency Words!  Sciency Words is an ongoing series here on Planet Pailly about the definitions and etymologies of science or science-related terms.  In today’s post, J is for:


Speaking as a space enthusiast and a citizen of the United States, I have to confess I’m a bit disappointed with the status of the American space program.  While there have been some success stories—New Horizons, Curiosity, Scott Kelly’s year in space—I can’t help but feel like NASA has spent the last decade or so floundering.

However, it’s encouraging to see that so many other space agencies around the world are starting to pick up the slack.  My favorite example of this is the JUICE mission, a project of the European Space Agency (E.S.A.).

Astrobiologists have taken a keen interest in the icy moons of Jupiter.  There’s compelling evidence that one of those moons (Europa) has an ocean of liquid water beneath its surface.  There’s also a growing suspicion that two more of those moons (Ganymede and Callisto) may have subsurface oceans as well.

The original plan was for NASA and the E.S.A. to pool their resources for one big, giant mission to the Jupiter system.  But then the 2008 financial crisis hit.  The U.S. Congress was loath to spend money on anything—especially space stuff.  “Due to the unavailability of the proposed international partnerships […]”—that’s how this E.S.A. report describes the matter.

So the E.S.A. decided to go it alone. Personally, I think this was a very brave move.  E.S.A. has never done a mission to the outer Solar System before, not without NASA’s help.  But there has to be a first time for everything, right?  And so JUICE—the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer—began.  It’s not my favorite acronym, but it works.

According to E.S.A.’s website, JUICE will conduct multiple flybys of Europa and Callisto before settling into orbit around Ganymede.  You may be wondering why JUICE won’t be orbiting Europa.  This is in large part because of the radiation environment around Jupiter.  Europa may be more exciting to astrobiologists, but Ganymede is a safer place to park your spacecraft.

Meanwhile, NASA has recovered much of the funding it lost after the 2008 financial crisis, and they’re once again planning to send their own mission to the Jupiter system.  So maybe NASA and E.S.A. will get to explore those icy moons together after all!  Or maybe not.  According to this article from the Planetary Society, NASA’s budget is under threat once again.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but no matter what happens to NASA’s budget, E.S.A. seems fully committed to JUICE.  So speaking as a space enthusiast, at least I have that to look forward to.

Next time on Sciency Words A to Z, how do you measure the size of an alien civilization?

25 thoughts on “Sciency Words A to Z: JUICE

  1. I have been watching Space-X recently. It was fascinating to watch their rocket launch and come back down. I’m glad to hear Europe went it alone…I wouldn’t wait for the US either.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. SpaceX gives me a lot of hope as well. Every election leads to a “new direction” for NASA, which sort of keeps NASA from finishing most of the projects it starts. I don’t want to get too political here, but anything that gets space exploration out of the hands of Congress and the White House is probably for the best.


  2. “This is in large part because of the radiation environment around Jupiter.”

    That’s interesting. I wonder if it’s about the distance from Jupiter? Does the intensity of the radiation fall off as you move further away, or is it some kind of sharp drop off?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never read anything comprehensive on the subject, but my understanding is that the radiation is most intense at Io. Io actually causes a lot of the radiation, because its volcanos spew tons of sulfur into space, which gets ionized and accelerated by Jupiter’s magnetic field.

      As a separate issue, I’ve read that Callisto would be a good place to set up a colony, because the radiation is tolerable there.

      Researching about JUICE, this was the first time that I’ve read that Ganymede is a safer radiation environment than Europa. That kind of surprised me, but it makes sense if there’s a gradual drop off from Io to Callisto.

      So it sounds to me like the radiation levels gradually drop off. But I’ve never read anything that says that explicitly, so there might be more to this story than I know.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We know so much about space, Mars, Europa and not enough about our own planet. We’ve got a void in our atlantic ocean ocean big enough to swallow mount Everest or stack and starfish which can survive the weight of 50 jumbo jets stacked on top of them?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be huge. If life goes three-for-three at Jupiter, then the odds of us finding life on Enceladus, Titan, Dione, Triton, and maybe even Pluto go way, way up!


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