Home » NASA Spacecraft Juno Gives Closest Ever View of Europa

NASA Spacecraft Juno Gives Closest Ever View of Europa

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Courtesy of Kevin Gill (Flickr CC0)

Nasa Juno Flyby

This Thursday the 29th, NASA spacecraft Juno made the closest pass that has ever been made before of Europa. On its two-hour flyby, the spacecraft came within 219 miles of the moon’s surface. Juno captured many high-quality photos of the moon’s surface in the Annwn Regio region which is near the moon’s equator. Some photos have been transmitted to Earth for viewing.

Europa is an icy, ocean moon and is one of the many moons of Jupiter. Europa is only slightly smaller than the Earth’s moon and is the sixth largest moon within the solar system.  Although similar in size, that’s the extent of their similarity with Europa having massively different formations and evolution. Many researchers have found evidence of a salty ocean below the moon’s thick ice shell. This had led to questions about potential conditions that could be suitable for life. The ice shell on the moon’s surface is between 10 and 15 miles thick and the ocean below is thought to be anywhere from 40 to 100 miles deep.

In the recent image from the Juno spacecraft, there is a high contrast between light and shadow which allows the rugged features of the terrain to be seen Many bright and dark ridges and troughs are shown on the moon’s surface along with tall shadow-casting blocks.  An oblong pit was seen on the surface and astronomers theorize that it could be a degraded impact crater. In addition to surface knowledge, the spacecraft also gave more insight into the interior of the moon, where that salty ocean is believed to exist.

Spacecraft Galileo

The Juno Spacecraft has orbited around Jupiter for 16 years. Previously the Nasa Spacecraft Galileo had flown by Europa back on Jan. 3, 2000, and, before Juno, was the last view received of Europa.

Juno contains an instrument known as a Microwave Radiometer which is going to study the ice crust on the moon and figure out more about the composition and temperature. This will be the first-ever information received of this kind. Scientists are also planning on comparing the recent images taken by Juno to older images that were taken to see if the surface of the moon has changed over the past years.

Although Juno’s data collection is exciting, the spacecraft only had a mere two hours to collect it. It raced past the moon at a high velocity of 14.7 miles per second. Although it’s still early in the process of gathering the information from Juno, it is thought to be a massive success so far by scientists. In addition, the maneuver that Juno made around Europa has shortened Juno’s orbit around Jupiter. Previously it took 43 days to orbit Jupiter and now it has decreased to 38.

NASA’s Next Step

Juno was initially set to end in 2021 but is in an extended part of its mission. It is doing flybys of Jupiter’s moons and visiting Ganymede and plans in visiting Io in the upcoming years. Juno’s mission is now set to end in 2025.

NASA’s Europa Clipper Mission is planning on launching in 2024 and the data and information that Juno has gotten can help inform the mission. It’s also planning on building observations from older missions like Galileo and Voyager 2. Europa Clipper could give astronomers more insight into if the ocean below the surface exists and if it’s habitable for life. They are also planning on looking into possible plumes that may vent subsurface water on the moon into space. Unlike Juno, who is focused on Jupiter, Clipper will be exclusively focused on Europa. Clipper plans on going from an altitude of 1700 miles above the moon’s surface to just 16 miles above. The spacecraft is planning on arriving at Europa in 2030.

The Juno spacecraft getting this important and exciting information is a great feat that NASA will continue to extend with future missions. There is so much more to learn about Europa and much more data will be seen in upcoming years.

Written by Alyssa Calderon

Sources

CNN: NASA spacecraft captures image of ocean world orbiting Jupiter during flyby

SciTech Daily: NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Captures Closest View of Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa in 22 Years

Space.com: Behold! Our closest view of Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa in 22 years

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Kevin Gill Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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