April 12, 2023: The European Space Agency is about to launch a very important spacecraft: The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer–“Juice” for short. Its mission is to probe Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, moons with oceans larger than those of Earth and possible habitats for extraterrestrial life. Liftoff is scheduled for April 13th (12:15 UT) from French Guiana.
“It may be possible for experienced observers to photograph Juice as it recedes on the night after launch,” says John H. Rogers, the Jupiter Section Director of the British Astronomical Association. “The solar panels should be deployed by 100 minutes after launch, with full deployment over the next 17 days. You can obtain an ephemeris from JPL-Horizons. Type ‘Juice’ in for the target body.”
“The best views will be from the Far East and Australia, from about 14:00 UT onwards when solar panels are deployed,” says Rogers. “The brightness will then diminish as the distance from Earth increases; by the time it is visible from western Europe, approaching 150,000 km out, one experienced observer suggests that it might be around mag.13 or 14.”
Juice will take 8 years to reach Jupiter. After a series of visits to Callisto and Europa, Juice will enter into a permanent orbit around Ganymede in 2034–the first time a spacecraft has ever held an orbit around a moon other than our own. Bigger than the planet Mercury, Ganymede is also the only moon in the solar system with its own magnetic field, providing a possible protective cocoon for life.
If you see Juice leaving Earth, please submit your photos here.
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