Mysterious Europa Gets an Extreme Closeup From NASA’s Juno Probe

Juno's view of Europa
The ridges and troughs on Europa stand out in an image from NASA's Juno orbiter. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Björn Jónsson)

Over the course of a brief two-hour opportunity, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured a rare close look at Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter that’s thought to harbor a hidden ocean — and perhaps an extraterrestrial strain of marine life.

Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, but this week brought the best opportunity to look at Europa, which is the prime target for investigation by NASA’s Europa Clipper probe in the 2030s. On Sept. 29, the orbiter buzzed over the moon’s surface at a velocity in excess of 52,000 mph (23.6 km per second), and at an altitude of 352 kilometers (219 miles).

That’s as close as any spacecraft has come to Europa since the Galileo orbiter’s 218-mile flyby in 2000.

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A Fascinating Look at Jupiter's Clouds Where the Light Intensity is Converted Into 3D

A still image from the 3D animation that shows the elevation of Jupiter's cloud tops. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt

In July 2016, NASA’s Juno space probe reached Jupiter, becoming the second spacecraft in history to orbit the gas giant (the first being the Galileo probe that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003). The data it has sent back has led to new revelations about the Jovian atmosphere, magnetosphere, gravitational field, structure, and composition. While its primary mission was intended to only last until 2018, a mission extension means that Juno will continue to orbit Jupiter’s poles (a perijove maneuver) and send back stunning images and data until 2025.

Recently, a team of citizen scientists led by mathematician and software developer Gerald Eichstädt used images taken by the probe’s visible-light camera/telescope (the JunoCam) to create a 3D animation of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. Eichstädt’s animation was presented at the 2022 Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC), which took place from September 18 – 23 in Granada, and shows the relative heights of the cloud tops of Jupiter that reveal delicately textured swirls and peaks. Eichstädt’s work also showcased the potential for citizen science and public engagement with today’s missions.

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Here’s What it Would Be Like to Fly Low Over Jupiter’s Cloudtops

Jupiter, via Juno. Picture shows lower elevation and uses standard perspective projection. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

During Juno’s extended mission, every orbit is like a new adventure. Each orbit is a little different, and NASA says the natural evolution of Juno’s orbit around Jupiter provides a wealth of new science opportunities.

But for most of us, what we look forward to on every perijove – the point in each orbit where the Juno spacecraft comes closest to the gas giant – are the incredible images taken by the camera on board, JunoCam. As Juno’s “eyes,” the camera provides a unique vantage point no other spacecraft has been able to give us.

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Finally! New Pictures of Ganymede, Thanks to Juno

Ganymede seen by JunoCam. The image is derived from a raw PJ34 JunoCam image, decompanded and stretched in a linear way in order to remove dark and to improve contrast moderately. Credit : NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt.

Well, hello there old friend! This week the Juno mission to the Jupiter system made the first close flyby of Jupiter’s giant moon Ganymede, and as you might guess, the images are spectacular. This is the first time we’ve seen a close-up view of the Solar System’s largest moon since the Galileo mission 20 years ago. Voyager gave us the first views of Ganymede 40 years ago.  Now, planetary scientists will be able observe any changes in Ganymede’s surface over time.

But first, the image editing gurus back on Earth are having a go at the raw images sent back by Juno. Our lead image comes from Gerald Eichstädt, who worked his magic to bring out the details of Ganymede, and it’s a stunner.

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Stare Straight Down Into a Giant Storm on Jupiter

A view from the Juno spacecraft of a giant storm on Jupiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

A new batch of images recently arrived at Earth from JunoCam, the visible light camera on board the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter. The camera has provided stunning views of the gas giant world since the spacecraft’s arrival in 2016. Citizen scientists and imaging enthusiasts act as the camera’s virtual imaging team, participating in key steps of the process by making suggestions of areas on Jupiter to take pictures and doing the image editing work.

This lead image, edited by Kevin Gill, is another stunner: a look straight down into a giant storm.

And we like Kevin’s attitude about this whole process:

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Are the Clouds of Jupiter Haunted?

Artist illustration shows what a sprite could look like in Jupiter's atmosphere. Named after a mischievous, quick-witted character in English folklore, sprites last for only a few milliseconds. They feature a central blob of light with long tendrils of light extending down toward the ground and upward. In Earth's upper atmosphere, their interaction with nitrogen give sprites a reddish hue. At Jupiter, where the predominance of hydrogen in the upper atmosphere would likely give them a blue hue. Image Description/Credit NASA

Are spirits amongst the clouds of Jupiter? The answer might be yes! A recent publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets has identified what appear to be “Sprites” in the Jovian Atmosphere.

In European Folklore, ‘Sprites’ (derived from Latin ‘spiritus’ or spirit) were elemental and ethereal beings visiting Earth. The term is fitting for “lightning sprites”, a natural meteorological phenomenon with many eye-witness testimonies but not captured on camera until 1989. Created by lightning discharges in Earth’s atmosphere, sprites are part of larger family of phenomena called TLE’s, or “Transient Luminous Events”, that last for only fractions of a second.

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See a 360 Degree Juno-Eye View of Jupiter During an Io Eclipse

Io Eclipse on Jupiter from Juno Perijove 22 - NASA/JPL/Kevin Gill

Yesterday, we posted some incredible photos from the Juno Probe’s 29th flyby of Jupiter. Juno is in a highly elliptical orbit. It buzzes the planet at an altitude of 4,200km and then sweeps out to 8.1 million. Completing this circuit every 53 days, Juno only spends 2 hours within close proximity to Jupiter reducing the probe’s exposure to harmful radiation of high energy particles accelerated by Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Io Eclipse on Jupiter from Juno Perijove 22 – NASA/JPL/Kevin Gill
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Artwork Inspired by Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Artist Mik Petter created this unique, digital artwork using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. The original JunoCam image was taken on July 10, 2017, at 10:10 p.m. EDT. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Mik Petter

Artist Mik Petter has created a vibrant new piece of art based on JunoCam images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS). The piece makes use of fractals, which are recursive mathematical creations; increasingly complex patterns that are similar to each other, yet never exactly the same.

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Another Beautiful Image of Jupiter from Juno During a Flyby. Great Work by Gerald Eichstadt and Sean Doran

A multitude of swirling clouds in Jupiter's dynamic North North Temperate Belt is captured in this image from NASA's Juno spacecraft. Appearing in the scene are several bright-white “pop-up” clouds as well as an anticyclonic storm, known as a white oval. This color-enhanced image was taken at 4:58 p.m. EDT on Oct. 29, 2018, as the spacecraft performed its 16th close flyby of Jupiter. At the time, Juno was about 4,400 miles from the planet's cloud tops, at a latitude of approximately 40 degrees north. Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran created this image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager. Image Credit: Enhanced image by Gerald Eichstädt and Sean Doran (CC BY-NC-SA) based on images provided courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Confucius said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  

When it comes to Jupiter, Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran can certainly see it. And lucky for us, they have the skill to bring that beauty to the fore for the rest of us to enjoy.

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Clouds On Jupiter Rising Up Above the Surrounding Atmosphere

At center right, a patch of bright, high-altitude "pop-up" clouds rises above Jupiter's surrounding atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt

Though it looks like it to us, Jupiter’s clouds do no form a flat surface. Some of its clouds rise up above the surrounding cloud tops. The two bright spots in the right center of this image are much higher than the surrounding clouds.

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