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Home SCIENCE Here's the most detailed look yet at Jupiter's Europa

Here’s the most detailed look yet at Jupiter’s Europa

Jupiter’s moon Europa might have one of the best chances of supporting life in our solar system. And now, NASA scientists have captured the closest images of the natural satellite in more than two decades.

On Thursday, NASA’s Juno spacecraft came within 219 miles of the moon, allowing its camera, the JunoCam, to capture high-resolution images of Europa’s terrain. At the same time, Juno collected data on geological features and the atmosphere, including its interior and the structure of the ice sheet. The collection of photographs and data will help bridge the gaps in understanding of Europa’s surface and subsurface ocean. “The JunoCam images will complete the current geological map, replacing the existing low-resolution coverage of the area,” said Candy Hansen, lead developer and operator of JunoCam, in the press release.

[Related: Europa’s icy surface may glow in the dark]

Scientists have long been interested in Europa, one of Jupiter’s 80 moons, as a prime candidate for extraterrestrial life because of its massive and potentially liquid ocean. Although the moon would need many more factors to support life than just liquid water, its icy crust and ocean floor could foster essential elements like hydrogen. The Juno mission will help scientists learn more about the moon, moving one step closer to understanding whether simple organisms can survive on the icy satellite.

Although Juno produced impressive images of Europa, it did so working under immense constraints, with only two hours of time to collect data. Still, the spacecraft achieved its goal while flying at about 14 miles per second.

These photos of Europa are not Juno’s first major achievement, and NASA scientists hope they won’t be the last. Spaceship released in 2011, originally on a five-year trip to study Jupiter. But after traveling 1.7 billion miles and successfully orbiting the gas giant, scientists decided the spacecraft wasn’t done and Juno moved on to study the entire Jovian system. But even after the mission ends in 2025, its impact is far from over. The Juno mission will help inform the next Europe Clipper Missionwhose launch is scheduled for 2024 and will arrive in Europe in 2030.


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