Stunning portraits of Jupiter’s mysterious icy moon Europa captured by NASA’s Juno mission during its close flyby last week reveal the moon, which may harbor alien life, in unexpected colors.
The new images were taken by Heraof the JunoCam camera during the probe pass Europe on September 29, they then went to enthusiastic image editors who gave them an almost artistic treatment at times.
“Beginning with the Earth flyby in 2013, Juno scientists have been invaluable in processing the numerous images we receive with Juno,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Center in Texas. statement. “During each of his flights Zeus, and now his moons, their work provides a perspective based on both science and art. They are a critical part of our team, leading the way in using our images for new discoveries.”
Related: Underwater snow on Earth could provide insight into Europa’s icy crust
The newly released images highlight unexplored surface features that could shed light on processes occurring in the potentially living ocean beneath Europa’s thick ice crust. The images, captured during an imaging window of just a few minutes, include JunoCam’s closest image of the moon, taken from an altitude of 945 miles (1,500 kilometers) above Europa’s surface. The image shows a region called Annwn Regio, known for what scientists call chaotic terraina maze of ridges, grooves and crevasses scaring the frozen surface.
The image, processed by Björn Jónsson, depicts the surface at a resolution of about 0.6 miles (1 km) per pixel, revealing numerous bright and dark troughs and previously unknown depressions. Callanish Crater, which NASA’s Galileo probe studied in the late 1990s and early 2000s, appears in the lower right as a circular dark spot.
Two of the images show the same part of Europa’s surface, comparing different processing approaches. one with minimal processing, the other with enhanced color contrast that makes surface features stand out. In the more processed image, the shadows created by the pith of the scars are visible.
Finally, a highly stylized image by Fernando Garcia Navarro gives the rather simple white and brown moon an exaggerated psychedelic look.
“Juno’s citizen scientists are part of a global, united effort that leads to both new perspectives and new ideas,” Candy Hansen, JunoCam co-principal investigator at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, said in the release. “Many times, citizen scientists will completely overlook the potential scientific applications of an image and focus on how Juno inspires their imagination or artistic sense, and we welcome their creativity.”
Juno zipped 256 miles (412 km) above Europa’s icy surface last week, making closest approach to the moon and the closest any spacecraft has come since the Galileo spacecraft flew by in 2000. Flying through space at 15 miles per second (24 km per second), Juno took its most detailed image yet of Europe to date. The maneuver wasn’t just for sightseeing. It also adjusted the probe’s orbit around Jupiter, reducing the time it takes to orbit the gas giant from 43 to 38 days, NASA said in the statement.
Last year, Juno visited Ganymedethe largest moon in solar system; a visit to the volcanic moon Yo planned for next year.
While all four main Jovian moons are fascinating, Europa is particularly interesting because scientists believe it may be the most likely body in the solar system to host extraterrestrial life.
Juno is unlikely to examine whether anything lives deep in Europa’s ocean, but NASA plans to Europa Clipper the mission, expected to launch in 2024, may be able to find the necessary evidence. Equipped with a suite of nine state-of-the-art science instruments, Europa Clipper will make Europa the best-explored moon in the solar system, with the exception of our own physical satellite.