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NASA Closeup Images of Europa Show More of Frozen Ocean World

Published 10/16/22 at 12:04 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

NASA Closeup Images of Europa Show More of Frozen Ocean World

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(Portland, Oregon) - It's not the coastline of Oregon, but it is a new kind of oceanic world getting documented by NASA spacecraft. The icy lines of Europa have been on display in recent weeks as NASA released images from the distant moon of Jupiter. They show stunning details and open up new questions for scientists, all thanks to the Juno probe and its Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) camera instruments. (Above detail of Europa, courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI)

The big new capture covers 93 miles (150 kilometers) by 125 miles (200 kilometers) of Europa’s surface, revealing more about the interlocking grooves and double ridges of a planet with an exterior apparently made from nothing but ice. The fractures create a labyrinth on the top of its frozen ocean, with double ridges and complex shapes.

NASA scientists say the ridges indicate elevated features. Dark stains appear in the upper right and far right middle, which scientists believe are coming from undersea eruptions on this unique world. White dots seen around the photo are signatures of high-energy particles of radiation that are going straight through the ice layers and registering in the camera.

Jupiter next to a moon halo, photographed on Oregon coast (Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

The most prominent feature is the object in the middle, which resembles a musical note to some degree. It's about 42 miles long (a little less than the distance between Tillamook and Astoria on the Oregon coast), and 23 miles wide.

More article below the full capture of Europa

This is the first closeup of the moon in two decades, made possible by the high-resolution SRU camera that is used to orient the Juno spacecraft. The black and white image was taken on September 29, at a distance of 256 miles away as Juno speeds around the orbit of Jupiter at 15 miles per second. When it was snapped, the area of Europa was essentially in nighttime with the glow of Jupiter illuminating the scene and not exactly the sun: sunlight was reflected off the atmosphere of Jupiter. This is known as “Jupiter Shine.”

Europa is of great interest to scientists hopeful to find evidence of life elsewhere beyond Earth. With what they believe is a salty ocean underneath, the moon contains some conditions that could harbor life. Besides this remarkable possibility, there are intresting eruptions beneath the surface, caused by the gravitational interaction with Jupiter. Nearby moon Enceladus also hosts evidence of a frozen ocean, and it is known to produce massive water geysers at times, which have been photographed jetting into space.

SRU was designed for low-light conditions, already showing remarkable results as a science tool. To date, it's also discovered shallow lightning in the atmosphere of Jupiter, images of the super planet's rings, and these fascinating geologic formations.

According to Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, the spacecraft was originally focused on Jupiter. Extensions of the mission have allowed more discoveries and insights.

Next year, Jupiter's IO will join the list of photographed worlds around Jupiter.

NASA is planning the Europa Clipper spacecraft for the early 2030s, taking more closeups of Europa in hopes of finding evidence of life beneath the ocean's frozen surface.

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Above and below: Venus and Jupiter seen on the Oregon coast

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