NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew just 352 kilometres above Jupiter’s moon Europa, sending back extraordinarily detailed images of the surface
NASA’s Juno spacecraft has taken the closest images of Jupiter’s moon Europa in more than two decades. On 29 September, it flew just 352 kilometres above the surface of the icy moon, only the third time any spacecraft has been within 500 kilometres of it. The images from this daring swoop are extraordinarily detailed.
At the time of the flyby, Juno was travelling at nearly 24 kilometres per second, so it only had a two-hour window to collect detailed data before it sailed away again. In that time, it took pictures and collected data on the moon’s surface composition, interior structure and its interaction with the magnetic field of Jupiter. The pictures reveal ridges and channels slicing across Europa’s surface, as well as small impact craters.
“The science team will be comparing 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 at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona in a statement. “The JunoCam images will fill in the current geologic map, replacing existing low-resolution coverage of the area.”
This new data will help researchers prepare for the Europa Clipper mission, which is set to launch in 2024 in an effort to determine whether the frigid moon could host life beneath its icy shell. Aside from its deep subsurface ocean, the Juno data should reveal whether there are shallow pockets of liquid water within the shell.
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