The Juno probe flew over Jupiter’s satellite Europa and captured it at close range

Juno became the third spacecraft in history to fly less than 310 miles over the surface of Europa. It lacked just enough to set a record, but the data of the measurements and surveys will be useful for the planned landing on the satellite.

Interplanetary station Juno (“Juno”) was launched in 2011 to study Jupiter, where she arrived five years later. In 2021, the device completed its main mission and was refocused on new research, including overflights over some of the major satellites of the gas giant. The planned approach to the Europa satellite took place on Sept. 29, as described in a statement from NASA’s press service.

Europa is the smallest of Jupiter’s four Galilean satellites. Its surface consists of smooth ice mottled with cracks. It is assumed that under it hides a whole ocean of water, which is heated by tidal forces generated as the satellite moves in the gravitational field of the giant planet. The subglacial ocean of Europa is considered almost the most suitable place for life in the entire solar system, other than Earth. New missions to it are planned to look for possible traces of local microorganisms.

After moving from its primary mission to a secondary mission, Juno smoothly changes its orbit around Jupiter
After moving from its primary mission to a secondary mission, Juno smoothly changes its orbit around Jupiter ©NASA, JPL-Caltech, SwRI

So far, only two spacecraft have come within 310 miles of Europe. The record is held by the Galileo probe, which was down to 218 in 2000, but the new span was only slightly higher at 219 miles. Juno swept over the satellite at 14.66 miles per second and during its two-hour approach made observations that will help better understand Europa’s surface composition and internal structure and its interactions with Jupiter’s magnetic field.

The work began when the probe was more than 51574 miles from the satellite. Onboard instruments recorded particles of plasma streams moving around Europe under the influence of the planet’s magnetic field. Measurements were made of the ionosphere, temperature and composition of the ice crust of the satellite, and signs of water ejection near its south pole. At the same time, the apparatus was taking pictures with the JunoCam. The raw images sent by it are posted for public access.

The data will certainly be useful in preparing for the Europa Clipper mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2024 and travel directly to Jupiter’s satellite. The plan is for it to include an orbiter and a landing module that will search for traces of possible life right on Europa’s icy surface. In the meantime, Juno itself is continuing work on an expanded mission. Between 2023 and 2024, the spacecraft will make close approaches to another Galilean satellite, volcanic Io.

Share this:
Liam Johnson

Liam Johnson

Liam Johnson is an astronomer. He has a degree in astronomy. He has extensive experience writing about space: astrophysics, cosmology and celestial mechanics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *