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The last time a spacecraft flew close to Jupiter’s moon Europa, less than 500 km away, was 22 years ago. NASA’s Juno probe has now also passed the moon, which is covered in a thick layer of ice that harbors oceans where even life could exist.
Juno approached the surface of the Ice World within 362 kilometers. The high-resolution images taken by the probe while flying close to it show an irregular pattern of hills and valleys. Large icy boulders are also visible, casting shadows on the surface and a crater that may be a crater.
The data sent by Juno is important in preparation for a new NASA mission that focuses specifically on this Jupiter moon. In two years, the Europa Clipper is set to explore the very thin atmosphere, the surface, and especially the interior of the Moon.
The European Space Agency is also preparing a mission, Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), which will also look for signs of life and map the thickness of the ice sheet.
water and oxygen
Europe has fascinated planetary researchers for a long time. The orb is roughly the size of our Moon, but it has a very different geological history. The presence of water and oxygen under the ice makes the moon one of the most promising places in the solar system for life as we know it on Earth.
Scientists who primarily process Juno’s data will look at the new images to see if the moon’s surface has changed over the past two decades. The miles-thick ice crust is constantly being destroyed by Jupiter’s immense gravity, which also causes tides in the subsurface ocean.
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