NASA’s Juno spacecraft has come as close as possible to Jupiter the fascinating, icy moon of Europa more than 20 years later.
Juno on Thursday came within about 219 miles (352 kilometers) of Europa, which is thought to have an ocean beneath its thick, frozen crust, raising the possibility of underwater life. Scientists called the flight a success: four pictures were taken and published within a few hours.
Scientists hoped to observe possible water columns rising from the surface of Europa, close in size to the Earth’s satellite. But no one was immediately visible in the original form.
“We need to be in the right place at the right time,” Juno principal scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio said in a statement.
John Bordi, deputy mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, expected the spacecraft to move “pretty fast” at a relative speed of nearly 15 miles per second (23.6 kilometers per second).
The first flyby photo is a close-up of Europa’s equatorial region, criss-crossed by ridges, troughs and possibly an impact crater.
The latest observations will help NASA plan its Europa Clipper mission, which is due to launch in 2024 and arrive in the Jupiter system in 2030. The European Space Agency is also planning close encounters with the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or Juice, which will launch next year.
NASA’s former Galileo spacecraft still holds the record for the Europa flyby, flying within 218 miles (351 kilometers) in 2000.
A spacecraft called DART slammed into an asteroid on Monday to learn how to deflect the potentially deadly celestial bodies.
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