Science team will search for life on Jupiter moons
A University of Leicester scientist is "hugely excited" to be playing a key role in a space mission to explore the icy moons of Jupiter.
Dr Emma Bunce and her team's idea to investigate the possibility of "waterworlds" that may harbour life was approved this week by the European Space Agency (ESA).
"It's a dream come true," said Dr Bunce. "I'm hugely honoured and excited to have got this far."
The space scientist, from the university's astronomy and physics department, helped lead a team of scientists from other universities and institutes to create the project, dubbed the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) mission.
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Its primary target is Ganymede, the solar system's biggest moon, which is larger than the planet Mercury.
Ganymede is thought to conceal a deep ocean of salty water beneath a thick crust of ice.
The plan is to send a probe into orbit around Ganymede to study its sub-surface ocean and assess whether life could exist there.
The one billion euro (£812 million) mission was approved by the ESA ahead of two other proposals at a meeting in Paris this week.
The team must now make another bid to design research instruments for the probe.
Dr Bunce, who has been working on the Juice proposal since 2007, said: "We know there is water there and that's needed for life to exist, so we hope to determine whether or not the habitat can support this. It's very exciting and we hope to be part of the on-going research that takes place."
The Juice spacecraft will also make fly-bys of two other moons, Callisto and Europa.
Juice is scheduled to launch in 2022 and will take eight years to make the long journey to Jupiter.
After its arrival in 2030 the spacecraft will spend three years collecting data to be transmitted back to Earth. It will be the first European-led space mission to the outer Solar System.
Leicester University's vice-chancellor Professor Sir Robert Burgess said: "It's a tremendous achievement that Leicester has played a key role in the bid for the first European-led mission to the outer solar system. We're proud of Dr Bunce and her team."