We finally know what the northern pole Europa – Jupiter’s icy moon – looks like from a distance.
According to Space.com, NASA’s Juno spacecraft – now orbiting Jupiter – has captured a distant view of Europa’s previously unseen region. Europa is an icy place, whose water vapor appears to arise from the plumes and may have habitable conditions in the ocean.
The image was taken from a distance of nearly 80,000km while the Juno spacecraft was on its main mission to examine Jupiter’s atmosphere. The resolution is quite low, but you can see changes in the reflectivity of light.
Scott Bolton – Juno’s principal investigator and director of the Southwest Research Institute’s (SwRI) space science and engineering division – said on October 28 during a NASA press conference, visibility will improve next year. until the spacecraft only needed to zoom in a few hundred kilometers to capture the same area.
Europa is a famous destination that has been photographed many times by spacecraft. The first close-up images were from NASA’s Pioneer spacecraft and Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s. Those images show a fractured icy surface. Even more detailed images were captured during the Galileo mission. The Galileo spacecraft orbited Jupiter and its moons between 1995-2003. Quite a few spacecraft have flown past Europa while en route to other destinations. The Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes near or on Earth occasionally observe this natural satellite. But the drawback is that they are all already on or near the ecliptic – the plane around which the Sun, planets, and many moons in the Solar System orbit.
In contrast, Juno’s more polar orbit sheds new light on unique views of Jupiter, such as the extent and stability of its polar vortices. This image of Europa was created by scientist Andrea Luck, using information from the JunoCam camera.
The press conference did not discuss what science can be done at Europa’s poles. But by the end of the decade, at least two major missions are expected to reach Europa. The European Space Agency’s (JUICE) JUpiter ICy Lunar Explorer will fly over Europa and several other icy worlds after its launch in June 2022. Meanwhile, NASA’s Europa Clipper will focus on this moon after it is launched in October 2024. Both missions will arrive and operate in Europa in the 2030s.