At the end of last month, the Juno spacecraft conducted a close flyby of Jupiter’s moon Europa, coming within about 219 miles of the moon’s surface, just a hair’s breadth away in terms of spacecraft. As the spacecraft slammed into Europa at a relative speed of almost 15 miles per second, he collected data including images of this most intriguing location. And now NASA has released the highest resolution image Juno has ever taken of Europa, showing its surface in stunning detail.
Europe is a particularly intriguing place due to its potential habitability. Its surface is covered in a thick crust of ice 10 miles deep, but beneath this ice it is believed that there is an ocean of salt water. That liquid water makes it a potentially habitable environment, so there’s great interest in examining the moon further to see if it might support life.
The image of Europa’s surface shows the grooves and ridges in the ice, covering an area of about 93 miles by 125 miles. It was taken by Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) instrument, which takes black-and-white images to help the spacecraft point in the right direction when imaging stars. But researchers have also found clever ways to make use of the camera for scientific work, particularly in low-light conditions. He was able to take this image of Europa while the moon was illuminated by light reflected from Jupiter.
“This image is unlocking an incredible level of detail in a region that has not previously been imaged at such a resolution and in such revealing lighting conditions,” Heidi Becker, SRU co-Principal Investigator, said 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. Understanding how they formed, and how they connect to the history of Europe, tells us about the internal and external processes that shape the icy crust.”
Juno launched in 2011 and was originally intended to study only the planet Jupiter. But in 2021 the mission was expanded to include the study of several of Jupiter’s moons: Ganymede, Europa and Io. It made a flyby of Ganymede in 2021, has now visited Europe in 2022 and in 2023 it will pass by Io. And Jupiter’s moons will be busy for the next decade, as they will also host NASA’s Europa Clipper mission and JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) mission.
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