NASA’s Juno spacecraft captures extraordinarily detailed images of Jupiter’s moon Europa

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has taken its first photo of Europa, Jupiter’s moon, capturing the ice-encrusted surface in extraordinary detail.

The image is the closest look at Europe any spacecraft has provided in more than 20 years, when the US space agency’s Galileo came within 218 miles (351 km) of the surface in January 2000.

Revealing surface features in a region near the moon’s equator called Annwn Regio, Juno’s images were captured during the solar-powered probe’s closest approach yesterday (Thursday).

Europa is the sixth largest moon in the solar system, slightly smaller than Earth’s moon.

Scientists believe a salty ocean lies beneath a shell of ice several kilometers thick, raising questions about the potential conditions capable of supporting life below Europa’s surface.

Up close and personal: NASA's Juno spacecraft took its first photo of Jupiter's moon Europa - capturing the ice-encrusted surface in extraordinary detail

Up close and personal: NASA's Juno spacecraft took its first photo of Jupiter's moon Europa - capturing the ice-encrusted surface in extraordinary detail

Up close and personal: NASA’s Juno spacecraft took its first photo of Jupiter’s moon Europa – capturing the ice-encrusted surface in extraordinary detail

The images are the closest look at Europa any spacecraft has provided in more than 20 years, when the US space agency's Galileo came within 218 miles (351 km) of the surface in January 2000

The images are the closest look at Europa any spacecraft has provided in more than 20 years, when the US space agency's Galileo came within 218 miles (351 km) of the surface in January 2000

The images are the closest look at Europa any spacecraft has provided in more than 20 years, when the US space agency’s Galileo came within 218 miles (351 km) of the surface in January 2000

Revealing surface features in a region near the moon's equator called Annwn Regio, images of Juno were captured during the solar-powered probe's closest approach yesterday (Thursday)

Revealing surface features in a region near the moon's equator called Annwn Regio, images of Juno were captured during the solar-powered probe's closest approach yesterday (Thursday)

Revealing surface features in a region near the moon’s equator called Annwn Regio, images of Juno were captured during the solar-powered probe’s closest approach yesterday (Thursday)

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT EUROPA?

Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon, is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon.

Europa orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days and is tidally locked – just like Earth’s moon – so the same side of Europa faces Jupiter at all times.

It is believed to have an iron core, a rocky mantle, and a saltwater surface ocean, like Earth.

Unlike Earth, however, this ocean is deep enough to cover the entire surface of Europa, and being far from the sun, the ocean surface is mostly frozen.

Many experts believe that the hidden ocean surrounding Europa, warmed by powerful tidal forces caused by Jupiter’s gravity, may have favorable conditions for life.

NASA scientists are set to explore Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Europa is our best chance of finding biological life in the solar system, researchers say.

As exciting as Juno’s data is, the spacecraft only had a two-hour window to collect it, whizzing past the moon at a relative speed of about 14.7 miles per second (23.6 kilometers per second). ).

“It’s very early in the process, but by all indications Juno’s flyby of Europe was a great success,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

“This first image is just a preview of the remarkable new science to come from Juno’s entire suite of instruments and sensors that acquired data as we flew past the moon’s icy crust.”

This segment of the first image of Europa taken during this flyby by the spacecraft’s JunoCam zooms in on a strip of Europa’s surface north of the equator.

Due to the increased contrast between light and shadow seen along the terminator – the boundary on the dark side – features of the rugged terrain are easily visible, including large blocks casting shadows, while clear ridges and valleys and dark curves on the surface.

The oblong pit near the terminator could be a degraded impact crater.

Juno approached about 219 miles (352 km) from the surface of Europa in what was only the third close pass in history below 310 miles (500 km) altitude.

During the flyby, the mission collected some of the highest resolution images of the moon and obtained valuable data on the structure, interior, surface composition and ionosphere of Europa’s ice, in more of the moon’s interaction with Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

“The science team will compare the full set of images obtained by Juno with images from previous missions, looking to see if Europa’s surface features have changed over the past two decades,” said Candy Hansen, co – Juno researcher who leads camera planning at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

“The JunoCam images will fill in the current geological map, replacing the existing low-resolution coverage of the area.”

Close-up views from Juno and data from its Microwave Radiometer (MWR) instrument will provide new details on how Europe’s ice structure varies beneath its crust.

Scientists can use all of this information to generate new information about the moon, including data in the search for regions where liquid water may exist in shallow underground pockets.

With this additional data on Europa’s geology, Juno’s observations will benefit future missions to the Jovian moon, including the agency’s Europa Clipper.

Scientists believe a salty ocean lies beneath a mile-thick shell of ice, raising questions about potential conditions capable of supporting life below Europa's surface

Scientists believe a salty ocean lies beneath a mile-thick shell of ice, raising questions about potential conditions capable of supporting life below Europa's surface

Scientists believe a salty ocean lies beneath a mile-thick shell of ice, raising questions about potential conditions capable of supporting life below Europa’s surface

The Juno spacecraft - pictured here in an artist's impression - reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year, 1.8 billion mile (2.8 billion kilometer) journey from Earth

The Juno spacecraft - pictured here in an artist's impression - reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year, 1.8 billion mile (2.8 billion kilometer) journey from Earth

The Juno spacecraft – pictured here in an artist’s impression – reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year, 1.8 billion mile (2.8 billion kilometer) journey from Earth

Scheduled to launch in 2024, Europa Clipper will study the moon’s atmosphere, surface and interior, with its main scientific goal being to determine if there are places beneath Europa’s surface that could harbor life.

Building on observations from Juno and previous missions such as Voyager 2 and Galileo, the Europa Clipper mission will study the atmosphere, surface and interior of the moon when it arrives in 2030.

Its goal is to study the moon’s habitability and better understand its global underground ocean, the thickness of its ice crust, and to search for possible plumes that could discharge underground water into space.

The close flyby changed Juno’s trajectory, reducing the time it took to orbit Jupiter from 43 to 38 days.

This is the second encounter with a Galilean moon during Juno’s extended mission, having observed Ganymede in June 2021.

The spacecraft is also expected to make close flybys of Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system, in 2023 and 2024.

How NASA’s Juno probe to Jupiter will reveal the secrets of the largest planet in the solar system

The Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile journey from Earth

The Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile journey from Earth

The Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile journey from Earth

The Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year, 1.8 billion mile (2.8 billion km) journey from Earth.

After a successful braking maneuver, it entered a long polar orbit flying less than 3,100 miles (5,000 km) from the planet’s swirling cloud tops.

The probe flew just 2,600 miles (4,200 km) from the planet’s clouds once every fortnight – too close to provide global coverage in a single image.

No previous spacecraft has orbited this close to Jupiter, although two others have been sent plunging to destruction through its atmosphere.

To carry out its risky mission, Juno survived a radiation storm that caused circuitry to fry generated by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field.

The maelstrom of high-energy particles moving near the speed of light is the harshest radiation environment in the solar system.

To cope with the conditions, the spacecraft was protected with special radiation-resistant wiring and sensor shielding.

Its all-important “brain” – the spacecraft’s flight computer – was housed in a titanium armored vault and weighed nearly 400 pounds (172 kg).

The spacecraft should study the composition of the planet’s atmosphere until 2025.

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