NASA spacecraft captures image of ocean world orbiting Jupiter during flyby

NASA spacecraft captures image of ocean world orbiting Jupiter during flyby
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A NASA spacecraft flew by one of the most intriguing ocean worlds in our solar system on Thursday.

The Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, made its closest approach to the moon Europa at 5:36 a.m. ET, flying within 219 miles (352 kilometers) of its icy surface.

Juno captured some of the highest resolution images ever taken of the Europa ice sheet. First has already been transmitted to Earth and shows surface features in a region north of the moon’s equator called Annwn Regio.

“Because of the enhanced contrast between light and shadow seen along the terminator (the nightside boundary), rugged terrain features are easily seen, including tall blocks that cast shadows, while ridges and valleys bright and dark curve along the surface,” a NASA statement. said. “The oblong hole near the terminator could be a degraded impact crater.”

An image taken by NASA's Juno spacecraft during a flyby Thursday shows the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa.

The spacecraft also collected data on the interior of the moon, where a salty ocean is believed to exist.

“It’s very early in the process, but all indications are that Juno’s Europa flyby was a huge success,” Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement.

“This first image is just a glimpse of the remarkable new science that will emerge from Juno’s full suite of instruments and sensors that acquired data as we skimmed across the moon’s icy crust.”

The ice cap that forms the moon’s surface is 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 kilometers) thick, and the ocean it sits on is estimated to be 40 to 100 miles (64 to 161 kilometers) thick. depth.

Juno’s microwave radiometer instrument will study the ice crust to determine more about its temperature and composition. It is the first time this kind of information will be collected on Europe’s frozen shell.

Data and images captured by Juno could help inform NASA’s Europa Clipper Missionwhich will launch in 2024 to make a dedicated series of 50 flybys around the moon after arriving in 2030. Europa Clipper can help scientists determine if the inner ocean exists and if the moon, one of many orbiting Jupiter, you have the potential. be habitable for life.

This illustration shows Europa Clipper after its arrival on the icy moon, with Jupiter in the background.

Clipper will eventually go from an altitude of 1,700 miles (2,735 kilometers) to just 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the surface of the moon. While Juno has largely focused on studying Jupiter, Clipper will focus on observing Europa.

“Europa is such an intriguing Jovian moon that it is the focus of its own future NASA mission,” Bolton said. “We are pleased to provide data that can help the Europa Clipper team with mission planning, as well as provide new scientific insights about this icy world.”

All of Juno’s instruments collected data during the flyby, including those that could measure the upper layers of Europa’s atmosphere and how Europa interacts with Jupiter’s magnetic field. The team hopes to detect a plume of water rising from cracks in the ice sheet. Previous missions have seen plumes of water vapor billowing out into space through the ice cap.

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“We have the right equipment to get the job done, but capturing a column will take a lot of luck,” Bolton said. “We have to be in the right place at the right time, but if we’re that lucky, it’s a home run for sure.”

Juno is in the extended portion of its mission, which was due to end in 2021. The spacecraft is now focused on flybys of some of Jupiter’s moons. the The spacecraft visited Ganymede in 2021 and it will approach Io in 2023 and 2024. Its mission will now end in 2025.

The Europa maneuver shortened Juno’s orbit around Jupiter from 43 days to 38 days.

Europa was last visited by NASA's Galileo spacecraft.

The spacecraft’s flyby was fast, approaching the moon at 52,920 miles per hour (85,167 kilometers per hour).

Europa is about 90% the size of Earth’s moon, and the Juno flyby was the closest a NASA spacecraft has been since the Galileo mission flew in 2000.

“The science team will compare the full set of Juno images with images from previous missions, looking to see if Europa’s surface features have changed over the past two decades,” said Candy Hansen, a Juno co-investigator leading the planning. by JunoCam. camera at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, in a statement.

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