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A NASA spacecraft recently flew past Jupiter’s moon Europa, and one of its cameras spotted fascinating features on the ocean world’s icy surface.
The Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, made its closest approach to Europa last September 29, flying within 352 kilometers of the icy surface. The mission captured some of the highest-resolution images of Europa’s ice shell ever taken in more than two decades.
Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit, a star camera that keeps the spacecraft oriented, captured an image covering 125 miles (201 kilometers) of the roughly 93-mile (150-kilometer) rupture region.
Fine grooves and double ridges can be seen scratching the surface. Double ridges are actually pairs of long parallel lines that suggest raised areas of ice.
There are also dark spots express something beneath the ice shell is emerging.
A surface feature resembles a quarter note below the center of the image, and extends 42 miles (68 kilometers) north. to the south and 23 miles (37 kilometers) from east to west.
The white dots correspond to energetic particles in the moon’s radiation environment.
Juno’s star camera captured the black-and-white image as it traveled from 256 miles (412 kilometers) to about 54,000 kilometers per hour (86,905 kilometers per hour).
The camera was designed to work in low light conditions, hence the amount of detail captured that part of the moon’s surface was at night and dimly illuminated by the sun reflecting off Jupiter’s cloud tops.
The camera has also been used to observe lightning shallow in Jupiter’s atmosphere and to capture images of the giant planet’s rings.
“This image unlocks an incredible level of precision in a region not previously imaged at this resolution and under such representative lighting conditions,” Heidi Becker, the star camera’s principal investigator, said in a statement.
“The team’s use of the star tracking camera for science is a great example of Juno’s innovative capabilities. These features are very interesting. Understanding how they were created – and how they are connected to the history of Europe – informs us about the internal and external processes that shape the frozen crust.’
All of Juno’s instruments collected data during the Europa flyby and it passed over Jupiter’s poles 7 1/2 hours later. Data analysis will be shared in the coming months.
The spacecraft also collected data on Europa’s interior, where the salty ocean is believed to exist.
The ice shell that forms the surface of the moon is 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 kilometers) thick, and the ocean likely sits above it. It is estimated to be 40 to 100 miles (64 to 161 kilometers) deep.
The data and images collected by Juno could inform NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which will launch in 2024 to make a series of 50 flybys around the moon after arriving in 2030. Europa Clipper can help scientists determine whether an internal 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 (2,736 kilometers) to 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the moon’s surface. While Juno is largely focused on studying Jupiter, Clipper will be dedicated to observing Europa.
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Juno is in the extended part of the mission, which was due to end in 2021. The spacecraft is now focused on flybys of some of Jupiter’s moons. and its mission will end in 2025.
“Juno started out completely focused on Jupiter. The team is very excited that during our extended mission we have expanded our investigation to include three of the four Galilean satellites and the rings of Jupiter,” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio said in a statement.
“With this flyby of Europa, Juno has now seen the first shots of Jupiter’s two most interesting moons,” he said, also referring to Ganymede, “and their icy shells look very different from each other. In 2023, Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system, will join the club.” .