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A NASA spacecraft flew past 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 Europa at 05:36 a.m., flying 219 miles (352 kilometers) from its icy surface.
Juno has captured some of the highest resolution images ever taken of Europa’s ice crust. First already transmitted to Earth and shows surface features in a region called Annwn Regio north of the Moon’s equator.
“Due to the enhanced contrast between light and shadow seen across the Terminator (night edge boundary), rough terrain features are easily seen, including long shadow-forming blocks, while bright and dark ridges and grooves curve across the surface,” a NASA publication said. “The rectangular pit near the terminator could be a degraded impact crater.”
The spacecraft also collected data on the interior of the moon where a salty ocean is thought to exist.
“It’s very early in the process, but by all indications Juno’s transition to Europa was a huge success,” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio said in a statement.
“This first image is just a glimpse at the extraordinary new science coming from Juno’s entire set of instruments and sensors collecting data as it surveys the icy crust of the moon.”
The ice crust that forms the surface of the moon is between 10 and 15 miles (16 to 24 kilometers) thick, and the ocean it probably sits on is estimated to be 40 to 100 miles (64 to 161 kilometers) deep.
Juno’s Microwave Radiometer will examine the ice crust to learn more about its temperature and composition. This will be the first time such information will be collected about Europa’s frozen crust.
Data and images captured by Juno can help inform. NASA’s Europa Clipper missionIt will launch in 2024 to perform a special series of 50 flights around the moon after arriving in 2030. The Europa Clipper could help scientists determine whether the inner ocean exists and whether the moon – one of many orbiting Jupiter – has potential. to be livable for life.
Clipper will eventually transition from an altitude of 1,700 miles (2,735 kilometers) above the moon’s surface to an altitude of just 16 miles (26 kilometers). While Juno focused largely on studying Jupiter, Clipper devoted herself to observing Europa.
“Europe is a very interesting Jovian moon, the focus of a future NASA mission,” Bolton said. “We are delighted to provide the Europa Clipper team with data that can aid in mission planning, as well as providing new scientific insights into this icy world.”
All of Juno’s instruments collected data during the flight, including those that can measure the upper layers of Europa’s atmosphere and how Europa interacts with Jupiter’s magnetic field. The team hopes to detect a cloud of water rising from cracks in the ice crust. Previous missions had observed plumes of water vapor spewing into space through the ice crust.
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“We have the right equipment to do the job, but catching a feather will take a lot of luck,” Bolton said. Said. “We have to be in the right place at the right time, but if we’re that lucky, it’s definitely a number.”
Juno is in the extended chapter of its mission, which will end in 2021. The spacecraft is now focused on making flybys of some of Jupiter’s moons. this spacecraft visited Ganymede in 2021 and will be zoomed in by Io in 2023 and 2024. His mandate will now end in 2025.
The Europa maneuver shortened Juno’s orbit around Jupiter from 43 days to 38 days.
The spacecraft’s flight was fast, converging at 52,920 miles per month (85,167 kilometers per hour).
Europa is about 90% the size of Earth’s moon, and Juno’s flyby was the closest a NASA spacecraft has come to it since the Galileo mission flew in 2000.
“The science team will compare all images acquired by Juno with images from previous missions to see if Europa’s surface properties have changed over the past two decades,” said Juno co-researcher Candy Hansen, who led JunoCam’s planning. camera at the Planetary Sciences Institute in Tucson, Arizona, in a statement.
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