Juno captures highest-resolution close-up of Jupiter’s potentially habitable moon, Europa
NASA has released the highest-resolution photo of Jupiter's moon Europa. Taken by the Juno mission, the image reveals a detailed view of the "puzzling region" of the moon's heavily fractured icy crust.
During its close flyby of Europa on September 29, Juno came within 219 miles (352 km) of the moon’s surface, making it the first spacecraft to come this close since Galileo’s flyby in 2000.
The image that we can see now presents features such as grooves and ridges. It covers about 93 miles (150 kilometers) by 125 miles (200 kilometers) of Europa’s surface. A NASA statement describes the picture in vivid detail: "Near the upper right of the image, as well as just to the right and below center, are dark stains possibly linked to something from below erupting onto the surface. Below the center and to the right is a surface feature that recalls a musical quarter note, measuring 42 miles (67 kilometers) north-south by 23 miles (37 kilometers) east-west. The white dots in the image are signatures of penetrating high-energy particles from the severe radiation environment around the moon".
"This image is unlocking an incredible level of detail in a region not previously imaged at such resolution and under such revealing illumination conditions," said Heidi Becker, the lead co-investigator for the SRU. "The team’s use of a star-tracker camera for science is a great example of Juno’s groundbreaking capabilities. These features are so intriguing. Understanding how they formed – and how they connect to Europa’s history – informs us about internal and external processes shaping the icy crust."
Incredible features on the icy surface
Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) – a star camera designed for low-light conditions – obtained the black-and-white image. The image was captured as Juno raced past at about 15 miles per second (24 kilometers per second) over a part of the surface that was in the nighttime, dimly lit by “Jupiter shine” – sunlight reflecting off Jupiter’s cloud tops. The image resolution ranges from 840 to 1,115 feet (256 to 340 meters) per pixel.
All of Juno's science instruments were collecting data both during the Europa flyby and then again as Juno flew over Jupiter’s poles a short 7 ½ hours later. The analyzed data can be expected in the coming weeks.
"Juno started out completely focused on Jupiter. The team is really excited that during our extended mission, we expanded our investigation to include three of the four Galilean satellites and Jupiter’s rings,” said Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "With this flyby of Europa, Juno has now seen close-ups of two of the most interesting moons of Jupiter, and their ice shell crusts look very different from each other. In 2023, Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system, will join the club."
NASA's Europa Clipper will arrive in the early 2030s to investigate Europa's habitability. Meanwhile, the data from the Juno probe will preview what the mission will reveal.
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