Razor-sharp close-ups of ocean moon Europe, the first in 22 years

The last time a spacecraft flew less than 500 kilometers across Jupiter Moon Europe was 22 years ago. NASA probe Juno has now also shaved past the moon, which houses oceans under a thick layer of ice where life could even occur.

Juno approached the surface of the ice world up to 362 kilometers. The razor-sharp photos that the probe took during the flyby show an erratic pattern of ridges and valleys. Large ice rocks are also visible that cast shadows on the surface and a well that may be an impact crater.

The data that Juno transmits is important in preparing for a new NASA mission specifically focused on this Jupiter moon. The Europa Clipper should set off in two years to explore the super-thin atmosphere, the surface and, above all, the interior of the moon.

The European Space Agency ESA is also preparing a mission, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), which will also look for signs of life and map the thickness of the ice sheet.

Water and oxygen

Europe has fascinated planetary researchers for a long time. The celestial body is about the same size as our own moon, but has a very different geological history. The presence of water and oxygen under the ice makes the moon one of the most promising places in the solar system for the birth of life as we know it on Earth.

Scientists who process Juno‘s data will mainly look at whether the surface of the moon has changed over the past two decades in the new photos. The miles of thick ice is constantly being ravaged by Jupiter’s enormous gravity, which also causes tides in the underground ocean.