nasa spacecraft buzzes jupiter moon europa, closest in years
This image made available by NASA in 2014 shows Jupiter’s icy moon Europa in a reprocessed color view, made from images captured by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. NASA’s Juno spacecraft made the closest approach to Jupiter’s tantalizing, icy moon Europa in more than 20 years on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute via AP

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has made the closest approach to Jupiter’s tantalizing, icy moon Europa in more than 20 years.

Juno on Thursday zipped within 222 miles (357 kilometers) of Europa, thought to have an ocean flowing beneath its thick frozen crust, raising the possibility of underwater life.

Scientists hope to get lucky and observe possible water plumes shooting from the surface of Europa, close in size to Earth’s moon.

“We have to be at the right place at just the right time, but if we are so fortunate, it’s a home run for sure,” Juno’s chief scientist, Scott Bolton of 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 go “screaming by pretty fast,” with a relative velocity of almost 15 miles per second (23.6 kilometers per second).

Pictures should be available by Friday, NASA said.

nasa spacecraft buzzes jupiter moon europa, closest in years
This illustration depicts NASA’s Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. Juno made the closest approach to Jupiter’s tantalizing, icy moon Europa in more than 20 years on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Credit: NASA via AP

The latest observations will help NASA plan for its Europa Clipper mission, due to launch in 2024. The European Space Agency also plans close encounters with its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or Juice, lifting off next year.

NASA’s former Galileo spacecraft still holds the Europa flyby record, passing within 218 miles (351 kilometers) in 2000.

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