(CNN) – A NASA spacecraft recently flew over Jupiter’s moon Europa, and one of its cameras detected fascinating features in the icy crust of the ocean world.
The Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, made its closest approach to Europe on September 29, flying 352 kilometers from its icy surface. The mission captured some of the highest resolution images ever taken of the Europa ice sheet in more than two decades.
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Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit, a stellar camera that keeps the spacecraft oriented, captured an image covering a fractured region of approximately 150 kilometers by 201 kilometers.
Fine grooves and double ridges can be seen along the surface. The double ridges are actually pairs of long parallel lines that suggest elevated areas in the ice..
There are also dark spots indicate that something below the ice sheet is coming to the surface.
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A surface feature resembles a musical quarter note below the center of the image and extends 68 kilometers from north to south and 37 kilometers from east to west.
The white dots correlate with energetic particles from the moon’s radiation environment.
The star chamber Juno took the black-and-white image from 256 miles away. while passing at a speed of approximately 54,000 miles per hour.
The camera was designed to operate in low light conditions, hence the amount of details captured even though that part of the moon’s surface was at night and only dimly lit by the sun reflecting off Jupiter’s clouds.
The camera has also been used to detect shallow lightning in Jupiter’s atmosphere and take pictures of the giant planet’s rings.
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“This image is unlocking an incredible level of detail in a region that had not been previously photographed with such resolution and under such revealing lighting conditions,” he said. Heidi Beckerco-principal investigator of the Star Chamber, in a statement.
“The team’s use of a star-tracking camera for science is a great example of Juno’s innovative capabilities. These features are so intriguing. understand how they were formedand how they connect to the history of Europe, tells us about the internal and external processes that shape the icy crust.”
All of Juno’s instruments collected data during the flyby of Europa and a pass over the poles of Jupiter made just 7 1/2 hours later. Data analysis will be shared in the coming months.
The spacecraft also collected data on the interior of Europa, where a salty ocean is believed to exist.
The ice cap that forms the surface of the moon is between 16 and 24 kilometers thick, and it is estimated that the ocean on which it sits sits between 64 to 161 kilometers deep.
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The data and images captured by Juno could help inform NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which will launch in 2024 to perform a dedicated series of 50 flybys around the moon after arriving in 2030. Europa Clipper can help scientists determine if the inner ocean exists. And if the moon, one of many orbiting Jupiter, has the potential to be habitable for life.
Clipper will eventually go from an altitude of 1,700 miles to just 16 miles above the moon’s surface. While Juno has largely focused on studying Jupiter, Clipper will be dedicated to observing Europe.
Juno is in the extended portion of its mission, which was due to end in 2021. The spacecraft is now focused on flybys of some of Jupiter’s moons, with its mission due to end in 2025.
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“Juno started out completely focused on Jupiter. The team is really excited that during our extended mission, we expanded our research to include three of the four Galilean satellites and Jupiter’s rings,” Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement.
“With this Europa flyby, Juno has now seen close-ups of two of Jupiter’s most interesting moons,” he said, also referring to Ganymede, “and its ice sheets look very different from each other. In 2023, Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system, will join the club.”
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