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NASA Juno spacecraft captures close-up, high-res image of Jupiter's moon Europa -
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NASA Juno spacecraft captures close-up, high-res image of Jupiter’s moon Europa

NASA’s Juno space probe recently performed a close flyby of the Jovian moon Europa. The spacecraft captured the first close-up shot in over two decades of Europa and it’s the highest-resolution image of the moon ever.

The image shows a specific portion of Europa and the moon’s fractured icy surface. The image covers about 150km (93 mi) by 200km (125 mi). In the image, you can see crisscrossing grooves and double ridges in the ice. There are also ‘dark stains,’ possibly linked to eruption events under the moon’s surface. The area that looks reminiscent of a musical quarter note is 67km (42 mi) north-south and 37km (23 mi) east-west. NASA writes that the white dots in the image are ‘signatures of penetrating high-energy particles from the severe radiation environment around the moon.’

‘Surface features of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa are revealed in an image obtained by Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) during the spacecraft’s Sept. 29, 2022, flyby.’

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

The image was captured by Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit (SRU). The star camera is typically used to orient the spacecraft. The photo was captured from about 412km (256 mi) from Europa. The resolution ranges from 256 to 343m (840 to 1,115′) per pixel. At the time of capture, Juno was traveling about 24km (15 mi) per second. At the time, Europa was in darkness, only dimly lit by ‘Jupiter shine,’ sunlight that reflects off Jupiter’s cloud tops.

Juno’s SRU is designed for low-light conditions and has previously proven capable in low-light situations. It has been used to capture a high-res image of Jupiter’s main dust ring and revealed ammonia to NASA scientists within high-altitude electrical storms on Jupiter.

‘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.’

In the video below, we can see the raw data from Juno’s SRU. The raw image data has been edited by Steve Spaleta of Space.com.

‘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.’ Juno performed a flyby of another Jovian moon, Ganymede, in June 2021. We also saw a further-out view of Io and Europa earlier this year.

Europa is the sixth-largest moon in the solar system, and it’s about 90% the equatorial diameter of Earth’s moon. Scientists believe a salty ocean is beneath Europa’s miles-thick ice shell. Could the ocean on Europa be habitable? In the early 2030s, NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft will aim to answer these questions.

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