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

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
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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

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 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.

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.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT EUROPE?

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

Europa orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days and, like Earth’s moon, is tidal, so the same side of Europa always faces Jupiter.

It is thought to have an iron core, a rocky mantle, and a surface ocean of salty water, like Earth.

However, unlike on Earth, this ocean is deep enough to cover the entire surface of Europa, and being far from the sun, the sea surface is frozen globally.

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

NASA scientists are about to search 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 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

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

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.

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

The Juno probe reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year journey of 1.8 billion miles from Earth

The Juno probe reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year journey of 1.8 billion miles from Earth

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

After a successful braking maneuver, it entered a long polar orbit, flying within 5,000 km (3,100 miles) of the planet’s swirling cloud cover.

The probe came within just 4,200 km (2,600 miles) of the planet’s clouds every two weeks — too close to provide global coverage in a single image.

No previous spacecraft has orbited so close to Jupiter, although two more have been sent through its atmosphere to destroy them.

To complete his perilous mission, Juno survived a circuit-damaging radiation storm created by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field.

The vortex of high-energy particles traveling at nearly 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 an armored titanium vault and weighed nearly 400 pounds (172 kg).

The ship is scheduled to study the composition of the planet’s atmosphere by 2025.

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