TECH

Alien Life On Jupiter Investigated As ESA Launches Work On JUICE Spacecraft

27/07/2015 11:00 BST | Updated 27/07/2015 14:59 BST

The European Space Agency's mission to Jupiter has received another green light that could help us find alien life on the large planet and its icy moons.

Work on a new spacecraft, called JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer), is set to begin this month after the agency awarded a €350.8 million (£250.8 million) contract to Airbus Defence & Space in France.

jupiter planet

If all goes to plan, JUICE will set off in 2022 and arrive at its destination in 2030.

The search should take three years, with the spacecraft examining the giant planet and its icy moons including Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto.

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Scientists are keen to see if the large bodies of oceans underneath the moons' icy crusts actually harbour life-forms that could be classed as intelligent.

When the mission was first confirmed in November, ESA highlighted that this would be the first time "any icy moon has been orbited by a spacecraft."

In a statement released at the time, the agency said "the mission will give us an unrivalled and in-depth understanding of the Jovian system and of these moons."

On board the spacecraft are a host of instruments including "cameras, spectrometers, an ice-penetrating radar, an altimeter, radio-science experiments, and sensors to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles."

ESA's announcement detailing JUICE's latest developments comes at a significant time in the worldwide search for extraterrestrial life.

Last week Stephen Hawking joined hands with Russian entrepreneur, Yuri Milner to invest $100 million (£64 million) in 'Breakthrough' initiatives designed to ramp up the hunt for aliens.

In a blog for The Huffington Post, astronomer royal Martin Rees described the significance of the gamble:

Searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) are a gamble. But they are surely a worthwhile one, even if there are heavy odds against success. A manifestly artificial signal - even if we couldn't decode it - would convey the momentous message that 'intelligence' wasn't unique to the Earth and had evolved elsewhere. But it could take a form very different from us. Seemingly artificial signals could come from super-intelligent (though not necessarily conscious) computers, created by a race of alien beings that had already died out.

News of their 10-year commitment came days ahead of Chinese state media announcing how the nation is building the world's largest telescope, equaling the size of 30 football pitches, in a bid to listen in for signals from space.