Jupiter: What makes the JUICE space probe so important

It is the largest planet in our solar system and with its rings it is also very recognizable. When Jupiter is closest to Earth, it is still 587 million kilometers away from us, but there are also times when it is as much as 961 million kilometers away from us. In short, if you are planning a trip there, you have to plan it smartly. At the moment there is an item on its way to Jupiter: the European space probe JUICE was successfully launched yesterday. This is why that is so important.


To think about what’s so special about that space journey, we need to talk a little bit more about Jupiter. It is the largest planet in our solar system: its mass is 318 times greater than that of Earth. Jupiter is a bulky, heavy planet, but make no mistake: it rotates faster than Earth. Where our day lasts 24 hours (one revolution), it is only 10 hours on Jupiter. Jupiter has an enormous gravity and a strong magnetic field: it stretches all kinds of things, the planet itself is not even round (the magnetic force is 420 micro-Tesla).

We have been to Jupiter a number of times. Not ourselves, because we are not yet able to do that, but in the form of space probes. One takes longer than the other, which has everything to do with the route, the speed and where the planets are in their orbit. This means that a trip to Jupiter can be completed in 13 months, but it can also take 8 years to complete. The space probe JUICE, which has just been launched, will travel around the sun through a variety of orbits to build up gravity for the crossing. It even flies by our planet a few more times: in 2024, 2026 and 2029.


In short, Jupiter is quite special and it is nice to see that JUICE (which TU Delft has also built) is now on its way to it. This European space probe had to wait a day for its launch by lightning, but now it’s well and truly on its way. JUICE stands for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer and is all about the study of the planet.

With the Ariane 5 rocket, the probe was launched from Kourou in French Guiana, which decoupled the probe after twenty minutes so that it could continue to the planet to investigate Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Those are three moons of the 100 moons that orbit Jupiter. They are moons hidden under a thick layer of ice. Ice yes: with probably water underneath.


You feel it coming: that’s why this mission is so important. Water means life. Life that once was, or life that may still exist even now. In 2031, the spacecraft is expected to reach Jupiter for its research, after which it will travel on to Ganymede, the satellite’s terminal station, in 2034, which will probably run out of fuel after a year and crash into the moon.

On Earth, we can simply see the planet Jupiter: it is the third brightest celestial body after the Moon and Venus. And: you don’t even need a telescope. Anyway, now the eyes are on JUICE, which hopefully gives a real sign of life by 2031.

Laura Jenny

When she’s not tapping, she’s traveling around the wonderful world of entertainment or some cool place in the real world. Mario is the man of her life,…

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