Three worlds in one photo, one of which could harbor life.
The Juno spacecraft captured a spectacular image of the gas giant during its 39th flyby of Jupiter. And if you zoom in for a moment, you’ll come across two more surprises in the photo: the moons Io and Europa are also on it!
Juno made the recordings in January, but NASA has only just released the result. Juno was about 61,000 kilometers from Jupiter’s cloud tops at the time of the shooting. By the way, Jupiter is not completely visible; the photo only shows the southern hemisphere.
To the right of the gas giant, there are two moons: Io and Europa. It’s just shadows in these photos, but that’s about to change. Juno, for example, will fly close to Europe in September. The probe will approach the surface of the moon up to 355 kilometers and, using various instruments, will make much more detailed observations. This will undoubtedly bring new insights, as the last time a space probe came this close to Europe was decades ago.
Sightings from Europa are more than welcome, as in recent years this moon has become one of the best candidates for extraterrestrial life. It is said that beneath the moon’s icy surface lies a global ocean that could harbor life. To explore this question further, several missions in Europe will be undertaken in the years to come. For example, ESA will launch the Explorer of the icy moons of Jupiter and wants NASA a year later Mower Europe launch. The data that Juno is already able to collect on Europe will certainly be useful.
But it’s not just Europe that can benefit from extra attention from Juno. The moon Io is also being studied in more detail by the spacecraft. Juno will pass the moon in late 2023 and early 2024.
Extended and Extended Mission
Observations of Jupiter’s moons are very exciting, but surprisingly, they weren’t originally part of Juno’s mission. The spacecraft was primarily designed to study Jupiter. But in early 2021, NASA decided to expand its mission goals and also deploy Juno to study three of Jupiter’s moons – in addition to Europa and Io, including Ganymede – and the gas giant’s rings.
Juno will certainly have until September 2025 to tick off the mission’s expanded objectives. Not bad for a probe that should have died in 2018. Curiously, the fact that Juno is still around is partly the result of a major setback. NASA had wanted to place the probe in a fairly close orbit around Jupiter, but that didn’t work; the probe lingered in the wide, oval-shaped orbit NASA had planned to place it in temporarily after arriving at Jupiter. However, the setback has also proven to have benefits, for example Juno was exposed to considerably less harmful radiation in this orbit, meaning the probe can last longer. “We found that Jupiter’s radiation environment in this orbit is much less extreme than expected,” lead researcher Scott Bolton said in 2018, when the mission was extended through the summer of 2021. “And that is not only beneficial to our spacecraft, but also to our instruments and data quality.” A second expansion has therefore taken place in 2021. Thus, over the next four years, we will be able to regularly enjoy beautiful images and new perspectives, both on Jupiter and on some of its most interesting moons.
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