NASA’s Juno spacecraft has taken its first image of Jupiter’s moon Europa — capturing the ice-covered surface in extraordinary detail.
The image is the closest view of Europa provided by a spacecraft in more than 20 years, as the US space agency’s Galileo approached within 351 km of the surface in January 2000.
Juno’s images, revealing surface features in a region near the lunar equator called Annwn Regio, were taken yesterday (Thursday) during the solar-powered probe’s closest approach.
Europa is the sixth largest moon in the solar system, slightly smaller than Earth’s moon.
Scientists believe a salty ocean lies beneath a kilometer-thick sheet of ice, raising questions about possible conditions that could support life below Europa’s surface.
Up close and personal: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has captured its first image of Jupiter’s moon Europa – capturing the ice-covered surface in exceptional detail
The images are the closest view of Europa provided by a spacecraft 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 of Juno, revealing surface features in a region near the moon’s equator called Annwn Regio, were taken yesterday (Thursday) during the solar-powered probe’s closest approach.
As exciting as Juno’s data will be, the spacecraft only had a two-hour window to collect it, and sped past the moon at a relative speed of about 14.7 miles per second (23.6 kilometers per second).
“It’s still very early in the process, but by all appearances, Juno’s flyby of Europa was a huge success,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
“This first image is just a glimpse of the remarkable new science emerging from Juno’s entire suite of instruments and sensors, which collected data as we swept across the moon’s icy crust.”
This segment of the first image of Europa captured by the spacecraft’s JunoCam during this flyby zooms in on a strip of Europa’s surface north of the equator.
Due to the enhanced contrast between light and shadow seen along the Terminator – the boundary of the nightside – jagged terrain features are easy to discern, including tall shadow-casting blocks, while light and dark ridges and hollows curve across the surface.
The elongated pit near the terminator could be a collapsed impact crater.
Juno came within about 219 miles (352 km) of the surface of Europa, which was only the third narrow 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 Europa’s structure, interior, surface composition and ionosphere, in addition to 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 to see if the surface features of Europa have changed over the past two decades,” said Candy Hansen, a Juno co-investigator. planning the camera at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.
“The JunoCam imagery will fill in the current geological map, replacing the existing low-resolution coverage of the area.”
The close-up images and data from Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR) instrument will provide new details on how the structure of Europa’s ice is changing beneath its crust.
Scientists can use all of this information to gain new insights into the moon, including data when looking for regions where liquid water may be present in shallow subterranean pockets.
With this additional data on Europa’s geology, Juno’s observations will benefit future missions to Jupiter’s moon, including the agency’s Europa Clipper.
Scientists believe a salty ocean lies beneath a kilometer-thick sheet of ice, raising questions about possible conditions that could support life below Europa’s surface
The Juno probe—depicted here in an artist’s rendering—reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year journey 1.8 billion miles (2.8 billion kilometers) from Earth
Scheduled for 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 Juno’s observations 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.
His goal is to study the habitability of the moon and better understand its global ocean below the surface, the thickness of its icy crust, and look for possible plumes that might be venting underground water into space.
The close flyby changed Juno’s trajectory and shortened the time it takes to orbit Jupiter from 43 to 38 days.
It is the second encounter with a Galilean moon during Juno’s extended mission, having previously observed Ganymede in June 2021.
The spacecraft is also scheduled to fly close by Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system, in 2023 and 2024.
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