Nasa’s Juno spacecraft makes close approach to Jupiter moon Europa

Juno, Nasa’s spacecraft, has made the closest approach in more than 20 years to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

Juno flew within 222 miles of Europa, which is estimated to contain an ocean beneath its thick icy shell, boosting the possibility of underwater life.

Scientists are hoping for a lucky break and to see possible water plumes shooting from the surface of Europa, which is around the size of Earth’s moon.

“We have to be at the right place at just the right time, but if we are so fortunate, it’s a home run for sure,” Juno’s chief scientist, Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement.

This image made available by NASA shows the complex, ice-covered surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during a flyby on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. At closest approach, the spacecraft came within a distance of about 219 miles (352 kilometers). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/MSSS via AP)

John Bordi, deputy mission manager at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, expected the spacecraft to go “screaming by pretty fast”, with a relative velocity of almost 15 miles per second (23.6 kilometers per second).

The first photo from the flyby is a closeup of Europa’s equatorial region, crisscrossed by ridges, troughs, and possibly an impact crater. Pictures should be available by Friday, Nasa said.

The most recent data will aid NASA’s planning for the Europa Clipper mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2024.

The European Space Agency also intends to conduct near encounters with its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or Juice, which will launch next year.

Nasa’s previous Galileo spacecraft still holds the Europa flyby record, reaching within 218 miles (351 kilometres) in 2000.

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