NASA's Juno spacecraft captured a stunning photograph of Jupiter's moon Europa revealing fascinating geological features.
Jupiter’s moon Europa has a puzzling region of heavily fractured ice crust in the highest-resolution photo that NASA’s Juno mission has ever taken. A close-up of this ocean world was obtained for the first time in over two decades by the spacecraft’s flyby of the moon, resulting in remarkable imagery and new scientific insights. Juno’s high-resolution photo of Jupiter’s moon Europa reveals a puzzling area of its heavily fractured icy crust, giving scientists new insights into the moon’s origin.
This image covers an area approximately 93 miles (150 kilometers) by 125 miles (200 kilometers) on Europa’s surface, revealing a network of fine grooves and double ridges (two long parallel lines indicating topographic elevations). There are dark stains near the upper right and below the center of the image, possibly caused by something erupting from beneath. A surface feature at the center and right of the picture resembles a musical quarter note, measuring 42 miles (67 kilometers) north-south by 23 miles (37 kilometers) east-west. High-energy particles penetrating the moon’s radiation environment are evident in the white dots in the image.
The black-and-white image was acquired on Sept. 29, 2022, by the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), which is used to orient Juno’s approach to Europa. The photograph of the moon was taken at an approximate distance of some 412 kilometers or 256 miles. The image was captured as Juno flew past the alien moon at about 15 miles per second (24 kilometers per second) over a nighttime region of its surface. It has a resolution of 840 to 1,115 feet (256 to 340 meters) per pixel. “Jupiter shine” reflected off Jupiter’s cloud tops was only slightly lighting the region over which it flew.
While the SRU is designed to operate in low-light conditions, it has also proven to be a very valuable science tool, enabling scientists to uncover shallow lightning within Jupiter’s atmosphere, observe Jupiter’s enigmatic rings, and now investigate some of Europa’s most fascinating geologic formations. The SRU’s lead co-investigator Heidi Becker said that this image unveils incredible detail in a region that has never been mapped at such a high resolution with such revealing illumination conditions.
“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,” explained Becker. Over the next few weeks, Juno’s SRU scientists won’t be the only ones analyzing data. As Juno flew over Jupiter’s poles a short seven and a half hours later, all of Juno’s science instruments collected data during the 45th orbit around Jupiter.
Initially, Juno was completely focused on Jupiter. We’re thrilled that, during our extended mission, we were able to investigate three of the four Galilean satellites as well as Jupiter’s rings,” said Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton. The flyby of Europa has given Juno close-up views of two of Jupiter’s most fascinating moons, with their ice shell crusts looking very different. In 2023, the spacecraft will approach to study Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system. In the past, NASA gathered a plethora of data after Juno swung past Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, which is the solar system’s largest moon.
The size of Europa’s equatorial diameter is about 90% that of Earth’s moon, making it the sixth largest moon in the solar system. The presence of a salty ocean beneath a mile-thick ice shell has scientists questioning whether the ocean is habitable. Europa Clipper, a NASA spacecraft set to launch in the early 2030s, will attempt to answer these questions regarding Europa’s habitability. A preview of what will be revealed by the Europa Clipper Mission can be found in the data from the Juno flyby.