NASA’s Juno Provides High-Definition Views of Europa’s Icy Shell

Imagery from the solar-powered spacecraft reveals some intriguing options on the ice-encased Jovian moon.

Photos from the JunoCam visible-light digital camera aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft helps the idea that the icy crust on the north and south poles of Jupiter’s moon Europa is just not the place it was. One other high-resolution image of the icy moon, by the spacecraft’s Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), reveals indicators of doable plume exercise and an space of ice shell disruption the place brine could have lately bubbled to the floor.

The JunoCam outcomes lately appeared within the Planetary Science Journal and the SRU ends in the journal JGR Planets.

On Sept. 29, 2022, Juno made its closest flyby of Europa, coming inside 220 miles (355 kilometers) of the moon’s frozen floor. The 4 footage taken by JunoCam and one by the SRU are the primary high-resolution photographs of Europa since Galileo’s final flyby in 2000.

Juno’s floor monitor over Europa allowed imaging close to the moon’s equator. When analyzing the info, the JunoCam crew discovered that together with the anticipated ice blocks, partitions, scarps, ridges, and troughs, the digital camera additionally captured irregularly distributed steep-walled depressions 12 to 31 miles (20 to 50 kilometers) huge. They resemble giant ovoid pits beforehand present in imagery from different places of Europa.

A large ocean is assumed to reside under Europa’s icy exterior, and these floor options have been related to “true polar wander,” a concept that Europa’s outer ice shell is actually free-floating and strikes.

“True polar wander happens if Europa’s icy shell is decoupled from its rocky inside, leading to excessive stress ranges on the shell, which result in predictable fracture patterns,” stated Sweet Hansen, a Juno co-investigator who leads planning for JunoCam on the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. “That is the primary time that these fracture patterns have been mapped within the southern hemisphere, suggesting that true polar wander’s impact on Europa’s floor geology is extra intensive than beforehand recognized.”

The high-resolution JunoCam imagery has additionally been used to reclassify a previously outstanding floor characteristic from the Europa map.

“Crater Gwern isn’t any extra,” stated Hansen. “What was as soon as considered a 13-mile-wide influence crater — certainly one of Europa’s few documented influence craters — Gwern was revealed in JunoCam knowledge to be a set of intersecting ridges that created an oval shadow.”

Though all 5 Europa photographs from Juno are high-resolution, the picture from the spacecraft’s black-and-white SRU provides probably the most element. Designed to detect dim stars for navigation functions, the SRU is delicate to low gentle. To keep away from over-illumination within the picture, the crew used the digital camera to snap the nightside of Europa whereas it was lit solely by daylight scattered off Jupiter (a phenomenon referred to as “Jupiter-shine”).

This revolutionary strategy to imaging allowed advanced floor options to face out, revealing intricate networks of cross-cutting ridges and darkish stains from potential plumes of water vapor. One intriguing characteristic, which covers an space 23 miles by 42 miles (37 kilometers by 67 kilometers), was nicknamed by the crew “the Platypus” due to its form.

Characterised by chaotic terrain with hummocks, outstanding ridges, and darkish reddish-brown materials, the Platypus is the youngest characteristic in its neighborhood. Its northern “torso” and southern “invoice” — related by a fractured “neck” formation — interrupt the encircling terrain with a lumpy matrix materials containing quite a few ice blocks which can be 0.6 to 4.3 miles (1 to 7 kilometers) huge. Ridge formations collapse into the characteristic on the edges of the Platypus.

For the Juno crew, these formations assist the concept Europa’s ice shell could give manner in places the place pockets of briny water from the subsurface ocean are current beneath the floor.

About 31 miles (50 kilometers) north of the Platypus is a set of double ridges flanked by darkish stains much like options discovered elsewhere on Europa that scientists have hypothesized to be cryovolcanic plume deposits.

“These options trace at present-day floor exercise and the presence of subsurface liquid water on Europa,” stated Heidi Becker, lead co-investigator for the SRU at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which additionally manages the mission. “The SRU’s picture is a high-quality baseline for particular locations NASA’s Europa Clipper mission and ESA’s (European House Company’s) Juice missions can goal to seek for indicators of change and brine.”

Europa Clipper’s focus is on Europa — together with investigating whether or not the icy moon may have circumstances appropriate for all times. It’s scheduled to launch on the autumn of 2024 and arrive at Jupiter in 2030. Juice (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) launched on April 14, 2023. The ESA mission will attain Jupiter in July 2031 to check many targets (Jupiter’s three giant icy moons, in addition to fiery Io and smaller moons, together with the planet’s environment, magnetosphere, and rings) with a particular give attention to Ganymede.

Juno executed its 61st shut flyby of Jupiter on Could 12. Its 62nd flyby of the fuel large, scheduled for June 13, consists of an Io flyby at an altitude of about 18,200 miles (29,300 kilometers).

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Analysis Institute in San Antonio. Juno is a part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall House Flight Middle in Huntsville, Alabama, for the company’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Italian House Company (ASI) funded the Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper. Lockheed Martin House in Denver constructed and operates the spacecraft.

Extra details about Juno is offered at:

https://www.nasa.gov/juno

DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-9011
agle@jpl.nasa.gov

Karen Fox / Charles Blue
NASA Headquarters, Washington
301-286-6284 / 202-802-5345
karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / charles.e.blue@nasa.gov

Deb Schmid
Southwest Analysis Institute, San Antonio
210-522-2254
dschmid@swri.org

2024-066

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