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The Juno spacecraft captured the highest resolution image of an enigmatic region on Europa's moon

Observations from the Juno spacecraft's flyby of the fair moon have provided the first close-up in more than two decades of this ocean world, resulting in stunning images and unique science

The land features of Europa, Jupiter's icy moon, are revealed in this Juno Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) image taken during the spacecraft's flyby on September 29, 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI
The land features of Europa, Jupiter's icy moon, are revealed in this Juno Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) image taken during the spacecraft's flyby on September 29, 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

The highest-resolution image ever of a specific part of Europa, Jupiter's moon, taken by NASA's Juno mission reveals a detailed look at a questionable region of the moon's highly fractured icy crust.

The image covers roughly 150 by 200 km of Europa's surface, revealing an area networked with fine grooves and double ridges (pairs of long parallel lines indicating high ice formations). Near the upper right corner of the image, and also a little to the right and below center, there are dark spots that may be related to something below that erupts to the surface. Below the center and to the right there is an area shape reminiscent of a musical quarter note that measures 67 km from north to south and 37 km from east to west. The white dots in the image are signatures of high-energy particles penetrating from the harsh radiation environment around the moon.

The icy surface of Europa, Jupiter's moon, was imaged by the Juno spacecraft during the spacecraft's flyby on September 29, 2022. At closest approach, the spacecraft was about 352 km away. Credit: NASA/JPL- Caltech/SWRI/MSSS
The icy surface of Europa, Jupiter's moon, was imaged by the Juno spacecraft during the spacecraft's flyby on September 29, 2022. At closest approach, the spacecraft was about 352 km away. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/MSSS

Juno's Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) — a star camera used to guide the spacecraft — took the black-and-white image on September 29 from a distance of about 412 km. With a resolution ranging from 256 to 340 meters per pixel, the image was captured as Juno passed at a speed of about 24 kilometers per second, or 86,000 kilometers per hour, over a part of Europa that was at night, dimly illuminated by the "light of Jupiter" - Sunlight reflected from Jupiter's cloud tops.

Designed for low-light conditions, the SRU has also proven to be a valuable scientific tool, discovering shallow lightning in Jupiter's atmosphere, photographing Jupiter's mysterious ring system and now allowing a glimpse of some of Europa's most fascinating geological formations.

This high-resolution image of Jupiter's main dust ring was taken by the Juno spacecraft's SRU navigation camera. The image was taken from inside the ring looking out as Juno flew between Jupiter and the radiation rings during the spacecraft's 36th close flyby on September 2, 2021. The brightest thin dust lanes are associated with the orbits of Jupiter's small moons Metis and Aderastea. The image has a resolution of close to 32 km per pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This high-resolution image of Jupiter's main dust ring was taken by the Juno spacecraft's SRU navigation camera. The image was taken from inside the ring looking out as Juno flew between Jupiter and the radiation rings during the spacecraft's 36th close flyby on September 2, 2021. The brightest thin dust lanes are associated with the orbits of Jupiter's small moons Metis and Aderastea. The image has a resolution of close to 32 km per pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"This image unlocks an incredible level of precision in an area that has not been imaged before with such resolution and under such revealing lighting conditions," said Heidi Becker, SRU's co-principal investigator. “The team's use of a star-tracking camera for science is a great example of Juno's groundbreaking capabilities. These soil notes are so intriguing. Understanding how they were created - and how they are related to the history of Europe - will teach us about internal and external processes that shape the ice sheet."

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