NASA’s Juno spacecraft has zipped around the gas giant Jupiter dozens of times.
On its recent 39th orbit, the spacecraft captured fascinating footage of the planet’s swirling clouds and two of its large moons: the intensely volcanic Io and ice-blanked Europa. You can spot the two moons to the right of Jupiter in the zoomed-in footage below.
Io is larger and also appears clearer than Europe. It’s the most volcanically active place in our solar system, with lakes of lava swirling on its surface. “Io’s volcanoes are at times so powerful that they are seen with large telescopes on Earth,” explains NASA.
Europa appears to the right and a little down of Io. Planetary scientists suspect Europa may harbor a salty sea beneath its thick, icy shell. “Europa may be the most promising place in our solar system to find present-day environments suitable for some form of life beyond Earth,” says NASA.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft captures Jupiter with two of its large moons, Io (on left) and Europa (on right).
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Image processing by AndreaLuck CC BY
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Juno captured these images from just 38,000 miles above Jupiter’s clouds (for reference, the International Space Station orbits some 250,000 miles above Earth.) In September 2022, Juno will swing relatively close by Europa, making the “closest fly-by of the enigmatic moon.” in decades,” notes NASA.
In the coming years, we’ll learn considerably more about this intriguing Jovian satellite. In 2024, NASA will launch the much-anticipated Europa Clipper spacecraft to Jupiter, where the probe will repeatedly sweep close to the moon.
“NASA’s Europa Clipper will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter’s moon Europa and investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life,” says NASA.