UNITED STATES: On September 29, the NASA Juno spacecraft will make a close approach to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The spacecraft has been studying Jupiter since 2016, and its closest approach is scheduled for 3:06 pm IST. It will get as close to the icy planet’s surface as 358 kilometres. The last time scientists saw Europa this close was during the Galileo probe’s fly-by, which took place when it was approximately 350 kilometres above the surface.
Scientists are aiming to obtain important information on Europa that could be useful for upcoming missions to the Moon, most notably the Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in 2024. The Southwest Research Institute’s Scott Bolton, the principal investigator on the Juno mission, said in a statement that “Europa is such an exciting Jovian moon, it is the goal of its own future NASA mission.” He continued, “We’re glad to share data that can aid the Europa Clipper team in mission preparation and offer fresh scientific insight into this cold planet.”
According to NASA, Juno’s up-close observations will help the Europa Clipper mission, which calls for the new spacecraft to make 50 flybys of Europa after arriving there in 2030. In order to learn more about Europa’s global underlying ocean, the thickness of its ice crust, and the subsurface water being vented out into space, the Clipper mission will collect data on the moon’s atmosphere, surface, and interior.
During its approach, the Juno spacecraft captured some of the highest-resolution photographs of Europa’s surface ever taken. It will also gather important information about the moon’s ionosphere, surface composition, interior, and interactions with Jupiter’s magnetosphere.
Europa is of particular interest to scientists due to the vast ocean that lies beneath its frozen surface. They also think that there may be undiscovered life in Europa’s waters. When Juno is about 83,397 kilometres away from Europa, it will begin scanning the frozen surface, travelling at a relative speed of 23.6 kilometres per second with respect to the Moon.
According to NASA’s Juno mission team, the probe will be in the shadow of Europa when it is closest to the moon, but Jupiter’s atmosphere will reflect enough sunlight for the spacecraft to collect data in visible light.