By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Staff Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s Juno spacecraft made the closest approach to Jupiter’s tempting icy moon Europa in more than 20 years.
Juno passed within 222 miles (357 kilometers) of Europa on Thursday, and is thought to have an ocean flowing under its thick frozen crust, raising the possibility of underwater life.
Scientists hope to get lucky and observe possible plumes of water shooting from Europa’s surface, about the size of Earth’s moon.
“We have to be in the right place at the right time, but if we’re that lucky, it sure is a home run,” Juno chief scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio said in a statement.
John Bordi, deputy mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, expected the spacecraft to zip by “screaming pretty fast,” with a relative speed of nearly 15 miles per second (23.6 kilometers per second).
The images should be available on Friday, NASA said.
The latest observations will help NASA plan its Europa Clipper mission, which is due to launch in 2024. The European Space Agency is also planning close encounters with its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or Juice, which is set to take off next year.
NASA’s old Galileo spacecraft still holds the Europa flyby record, passing within 218 miles (351 kilometers) in 2000.
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