Michele Dougherty is Professor of Space Physics at Imperial College London. Michele has been involved in space exploration for nearly 30 years and in 2008 she became only the second woman in more than a century to be awarded the Royal Society’s Hughes Medal. She is leading unmanned exploratory missions to Saturn and Jupiter and was the Principal Investigator for the magnetometer instrument onboard the Cassini mission to Saturn that that led to the discovery of an atmosphere around one of Saturn’s moons. Michele is also Principal Investigator the magnetometer for the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) of the European Space Agency due for launch in April 2023. She has contributed significantly to the UK space sector and was chair for the Science Programme Advisory Committee of the UK Space Agency from 2014 to 2016. As Head of Department, Michele leads one of the largest Physics Departments in the UK.
Jupiter and the JUICE mission
The European Space Agency mission JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) will be launched in April 2023. It will spend at least three years making detailed observations of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and three of its largest moons, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Previous spacecraft missions to the outer solar system, such as Voyager 1 and 2, Galileo, and Cassini gave us a close look at the largest moons of the giant planets. Once thought of as inactive, cold bodies of ice and rock, we know that these distant moons are planet-like worlds with rich histories. While our search for life in the universe was once restricted to Earth-like planets, with terrestrial atmospheres and surface oceans, such icy moons with potentially habitable underground oceans offer new horizons.
Jupiter’s three largest icy moons — Europa, Ganymede and Callisto — all show hints of hosting liquid water oceans beneath their crusts. On Earth, life thrives in the deepest, darkest parts of our oceans near hydrothermal vents. Could life similarly evolve or survive in the oceans floors of these moons? The European Space Agency’s (ESA) boldest mission to date aims to find out.