The first image from NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it passed close by Europa as part of its extended mission. (NASA)
For NASA to extend its space science missions well past their original lifetime in space has become such a commonplace that it is barely noticed.
The Curiosity rover was scheduled to last on Mars for two years but now it has been going for a decade — following the pace set by earlier, smaller Mars rovers. The Cassini mission to Saturn was extended seven years beyond it’s original end date and nobody expected that Voyager 1, launched in 1977, would still flying out into deep space and sending back data 45 years later.
The newest addition to this virtuous collection of over-achievers is the Juno spacecraft, which arrived at Jupiter in 2016. Its prime mission in and around Jupiter ended last year and then was extended until 2025, or beyond.
And now we have some new and intriguing images of Jupiter’s moon Europa thanks to Juno and its extension.
Traveling at a brisk 14.7 miles per second, Juno passed within 219 miles of the surface of the icy moon on Thursday and images from the flyby were released today (Friday.) That gave the spacecraft only a two-hour window to collect data and images, but scientists are excited.
“It’s very early in the process, but by all indications Juno’s flyby of Europa was a great success,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a NASA release.
“This first picture is just a glimpse of the remarkable new science to come from Juno’s entire suite of instruments and sensors that acquired data as we skimmed over the moon’s icy crust.”
Candy Hansen, a Juno co-investigator who leads planning for the Juno camera at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, called the released images “stunning.”
“The science team will be comparing the full set of images obtained by Juno with images from previous missions, looking to see if Europa’s surface features have changed over the past two decades,” she said.
An image of Europa taken by the Galileo spacecraft as it passed the moon in 1998. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
During the flyby, the mission collected what will be some of the highest-resolution images of the moon (0.6 miles per pixel) taken so far and obtained valuable data on Europa’s ice shell structure, interior, surface composition, and ionosphere, in addition to the moon’s interaction with Jupiter’s magnetosphere.… Read more