NASA’s Juno spacecraft, on a close flyby of Jupiter’s moon Europa in 2022, has provided intriguing hints of potential present-day surface activity. The Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) aboard Juno captured a high-resolution image of an unusual region on Europa, resembling a platypus, sparking interest in the scientific community.
The Platypus Image: The SRU image reveals a distinct area on Europa’s icy surface, measuring 23 miles by 42 miles, exhibiting a body-like structure in the north and a bill-like formation in the south, connected by a cracked neck-like feature. Large ice blocks, approximately 0.62 miles in size, cast shadows in both regions. Comparisons with Galileo spacecraft images from the 1990s suggest changes in the southern part of the platypus area, hinting at potential recent alterations on Europa.
Researcher’s Perspective: Led by Heidi N. Becker of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the team emphasizes the inconclusive nature of the evidence due to variations in imaging quality and conditions. However, they note that the 2022 image includes nearby low-albedo deposits, potentially linked to subsurface liquid water, and dark stains that might be associated with water plumes.
Future Missions and Exploration: Despite the inconclusiveness, the platypus region emerges as a compelling target for upcoming missions, including NASA’s Europa Clipper and Europe’s JUICE. The Juno discovery adds momentum to the anticipation surrounding these missions, offering the possibility of confirming present-day surface activity on Europa.
Upcoming Missions: JUICE, launched in April 2023, is expected to reach Jupiter in December 2031, while NASA’s Europa Clipper is set for launch on October 6 this year aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket. Both missions aim to delve deeper into Europa’s mysteries and could potentially provide more concrete evidence regarding its surface activity.
Conclusion: The Juno spacecraft’s recent findings on Europa have stirred excitement in the scientific community, opening doors for further exploration and investigation. While the evidence remains inconclusive, the platypus-shaped region stands as a focal point for upcoming missions, promising to unravel the mysteries of Jupiter’s fascinating moon.