We just got our most detailed look yet at Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa
In these close-up glam shots, NASA's Juno mission is helping shed light on the mysteries of this ocean-filled moon.
Jupiter’s moon, Europa, might have one of the best chances of supporting life in our solar system. And now, scientists at NASA have captured the closest images of the natural satellite in over 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 about the geologic features and atmosphere, including its interior and ice shell structure. The photo and data gathering will help close gaps in understanding Europa’s surface and subsurface ocean. “The JunoCam images will fill in the current geologic map, replacing existing low-resolution coverage of the area,” Candy Hansen, a lead developer and operator of the JunoCam, said in the news 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, 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, getting one step closer to understanding if simple organisms can survive on the icy satellite.
Although Juno resulted in breathtaking images of Europa, it did so by working under immense constraints, with only two hours of time to collect data. Still, the spacecraft accomplished its goal as it flew by at roughly 14 miles per second.
These photos of Europa aren’t Juno’s first big accomplishment, and NASA scientists hope they won’t be its last. The spacecraft launched in 2011, originally on a five-year trip to study Jupiter. But after traveling 1.7 billion miles and successfully orbiting the gaseous giant, scientists decided the spacecraft was not done, and Juno went on its way 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 upcoming Europa Clipper mission, scheduled to launch in 2024 and arrive at Europa in 2030.