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Juno probe takes detailed photo of Jupiter's moon, Europa

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This image of the surface of Europa was taken during the Juno probe's flyby on Thursday. Image courtesy of NASA
This image of the surface of Europa was taken during the Juno probe's flyby on Thursday. Image courtesy of NASA

Sept. 30 (UPI) -- NASA's Juno space probe captured detailed images during a close flyby of Europa, Jupiter's largest moon.

The probe came within 219 miles of the ice-covered celestial body, one of the closest approaches by any spacecraft.

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The first image taken by the probe's Junocam was released Thursday. It shows the icy and rugged surface of an area close to Europa's equator, known as the Annwn region.

Scott Bolton, the Juno principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said, "This first picture is just a glimpse of the remarkable new science to come from Juno's entire suite of instruments and sensors."

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As part of NASA's campaign to engage the general public, space enthusiasts can vote online as to where the Junocam should be pointed next as the probe sends images back to Earth along its journey.

The probe had to adjust its trajectory to get close enough to Europa, reducing the time it takes to orbit Jupiter from 43 days to 38 days. Juno had to collect all its data during a two-hour window, as it was traveling at over 14 miles per second during Thursday's flyby.

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Candy Hansen, a Juno co-investigator who leads planning for the Junocam, said, "The science team will be comparing the full set of images obtained by Juno with images from previous missions, looking to see if Europa's surface features have changed over the past two decades."

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Europa is believed to have liquid oceans beneath the ice on its surface, raising questions about whether the moon would be able to sustain life. Using a microwave radiometer, Juno will reveal data about the structure of the moon's ice beneath the surface, looking for areas where liquid water may be present.

NASA plans a return to Europa in 2030 with the Europa Clipper mission, which will study the moon's atmosphere.

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