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Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike. With its breathtaking landscapes, diverse terrain, and picturesque vistas, it’s no wonder that millions of visitors flock to the state each year. But beyond the well-known tourist destinations lies a hidden gem for adventure enthusiasts – the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route.

The Colorado Back Country Discovery Route, or COBDR, is a 675-mile off-road adventure that spans from the southern Colorado border to the Wyoming border. Designed specifically for dual-sport and adventure motorcycles, the route takes riders through some of the most remote and pristine backcountry areas in the state.

What sets the COBDR apart from other off-road trails is its unique blend of challenging terrain and awe-inspiring scenery. From high mountain passes to rugged canyons, riders will experience a wide range of landscapes that showcase Colorado’s natural beauty and diversity. As they navigate through the route, adventurers will encounter rocky trails, steep climbs, and river crossings, testing both their riding skills and their sense of adventure.

But the COBDR is not just about the thrill of conquering obstacles; it’s also a journey of exploration and discovery. Along the way, riders will have the opportunity to explore historic mining towns, soak in natural hot springs, and camp under the star-filled Colorado sky. They’ll also encounter wildlife, from bighorn sheep and elk to the elusive black bear, adding an element of excitement and connection with nature.

For those seeking a true backcountry experience, the COBDR offers a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse oneself in Colorado’s wilderness. Away from the tourist crowds, riders will find solitude and tranquility, allowing them to truly embrace the spirit of adventure and engage with the natural surroundings.

Whether you’re an experienced off-road rider or a newcomer to the world of adventure motorcycling, the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route promises an unforgettable journey through some of the most stunning landscapes in the state. So saddle up, embrace the challenge, and get ready to embark on an epic off-road adventure unlike any other.

Overview of the route’s length and difficulty


The Colorado Back Country Discovery Route (COBDR) is a thrilling and challenging off-road adventure that spans approximately 675 miles across the beautiful state of Colorado. This rugged route takes riders through some of the most scenic and remote areas of Colorado, offering a true backcountry experience.

The COBDR offers various levels of difficulty, making it suitable for both experienced riders and those looking to push their limits. The route is primarily designed for adventure motorcycles and 4×4 vehicles, requiring a certain level of skill and off-road expertise.

The difficulty of the COBDR varies depending on the segment you choose to tackle, with some sections being more technical than others. From smooth and winding dirt roads to steep and rocky mountain passes, riders can expect a mix of terrains that will challenge their riding abilities.

It’s important for riders to be well-prepared and equipped with the right gear and equipment to navigate the COBDR. This includes having a capable off-road motorcycle or vehicle, proper safety gear, navigation tools, and a thorough understanding of basic off-road riding techniques.

While the COBDR presents its fair share of challenges, it also offers riders the opportunity to witness breathtaking natural landscapes, encounter wildlife, and explore hidden gems along the way. From the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the vast expanses of alpine meadows and dense forests, this route truly showcases the unparalleled beauty of Colorado’s backcountry.

Whether you are seeking a thrilling off-road adventure or simply want to experience the serenity of nature, the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route is an incredible journey that will leave a lasting impression. It’s an opportunity to push your limits, test your skills, and create unforgettable memories against the backdrop of Colorado’s rugged and majestic wilderness.

Importance of planning and preparation before embarking on the journey

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Planning and preparation are crucial when embarking on the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route. This epic off-road adventure requires careful consideration to ensure a safe and successful journey.

First and foremost, understanding the route is essential. Familiarize yourself with the trail’s length, difficulty level, and any potential obstacles you may encounter along the way. Relying on GPS devices and maps specifically designed for this route will provide valuable information to plan your trip effectively. Take note of available resources such as water sources, camping areas, and fuel stations, as these will significantly impact your travel experience.

Prior knowledge of your vehicle’s capabilities is vital for any off-road expedition. Assess your vehicle’s off-road capabilities, including its ground clearance, tire selection, and traction control features. If necessary, equip your vehicle with any necessary modifications or enhancements to ensure it can handle the rugged terrain. Regular maintenance checks and inspections are also crucial to identify and address any mechanical issues before they cause trouble during the journey.

Adequate packing is another aspect that cannot be overlooked. Prepare a comprehensive checklist of essentials to bring along, including camping gear, food supplies, emergency equipment, and tools for potential vehicle repairs. Pack enough water and food to sustain you throughout the trip, as well as extra supplies in case of unexpected delays or emergencies. Remember to distribute the weight evenly in your vehicle to maintain stability and reduce strain on critical components.

Weather conditions can vary greatly in the backcountry, so checking the forecast prior to departure is essential. Be prepared for sudden changes in temperature, rainfall, or even snowfall depending on the season. Bring appropriate clothing and gear to combat varying weather conditions, and ensure your vehicle is equipped with recovery tools like recovery straps, tow ropes, and a shovel in case you encounter deep mud or snow.

Lastly, inform someone of your travel plans. Share your itinerary with a friend or family member, including details of when you plan to start and finish the journey. This precaution will enable others to raise the alarm if you fail to check-in or return on time, ensuring prompt assistance if needed.

By prioritizing planning and preparation, you can embark on the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route confidently and maximize your experience while minimizing potential risks. Remember, safety should always be the number one priority when exploring the great outdoors.

Detailed description of the route’s starting and ending points

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The Colorado Back Country Discovery Route (COBDR) is a renowned off-road adventure that takes travelers on an exhilarating journey through some of the most scenic and rugged landscapes in the state. The route spans approximately 675 miles from its starting point in Four Corners to its ending point in Wyoming.

Starting in Four Corners, where the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, the COBDR starts off with a bang. This stunning location serves as the perfect gateway to the route, with its picturesque views and abundant recreational opportunities. As adventurers embark on their journey, they can soak in the beauty of the four corners area before delving deep into the heart of Colorado’s backcountry.

The route then meanders through the rugged San Juan Mountains, providing a challenging yet awe-inspiring experience for off-road enthusiasts. As travelers make their way through this mountainous region, they will encounter breathtaking vistas, dense forests, and high alpine meadows. The starting point sets the tone for an epic adventure that lies ahead.

On the other end of the COBDR, the route concludes in Wyoming. This final stretch traverses the vast and untamed beauty of the Wyoming Wilderness, a fitting end to this remarkable expedition. The ending point offers a sense of accomplishment and serves as a testament to the perseverance required to complete the challenging terrain along the way.

Travelers who embark on the COBDR will witness the diverse landscapes and natural wonders that Colorado has to offer. From the majestic vistas of the San Juan Mountains to the untamed wilderness of Wyoming, this route promises a true backcountry experience for those seeking adventure and a deeper connection with the outdoors.

Whether you are a seasoned off-road enthusiast or a nature lover seeking a thrilling escape, the COBDR’s starting and ending points are not just geographical locations, but gateways to an unforgettable journey. So pack your bags, fuel up your off-road vehicle, and prepare to embark on an expedition of a lifetime along the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route.

Recommendations for the best time of year to attempt the route

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The Colorado Back Country Discovery Route (COBDR) is a thrilling adventure, allowing explorers to immerse themselves in the breathtaking wilderness of the state. While this route can be attempted at various times of the year, it is essential to consider the best time to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Here are some recommendations to help you determine the ideal time to tackle the COBDR.

1. Summer (June – August): The summer months offer the most favorable conditions for traversing the COBDR. The snow has usually melted by this time, allowing access to higher elevations and reducing the risk of getting stuck or encountering treacherous conditions. The warmer weather also means longer daylight hours, giving you ample time to navigate the rugged terrain and soak in the natural beauty of Colorado.

2. Fall (September – October): Fall is another excellent time to explore the COBDR. The crowds have usually thinned out compared to summer, providing a quieter and more peaceful experience. The changing colors of the foliage add a breathtaking backdrop to your journey. However, it’s important to note that as the season progresses, the weather can become more unpredictable, with potential snowfall and colder temperatures at higher elevations. Always check the weather forecast and be prepared for changing conditions.

3. Spring (April – May): Spring can be a challenging yet rewarding time to attempt the COBDR. It offers a unique opportunity to witness the transition from winter to spring in the mountains. However, it’s vital to be aware that snowmelt during this time can create muddy and potentially impassable sections of the route. It’s recommended to plan your trip towards the end of spring when the snow has mostly melted, and the ground has dried up sufficiently.

4. Winter (November – March): While it is possible to attempt the COBDR in winter, it poses significant challenges that require specialized equipment, experience, and knowledge of winter backcountry travel. Heavy snowfall, icy conditions, and limited access to services make this season risky for most adventurers. If you choose to explore the COBDR during winter, make sure you are adequately equipped and prepared for extreme winter conditions.

Regardless of the time of year you choose to take on the COBDR, it is vital to conduct thorough research, be prepared with the right gear, and check for any road closures or trail conditions before embarking on your journey. Additionally, be mindful of the Colorado Back Country Code and practice Leave No Trace principles to ensure the preservation of this pristine environment for future generations of explorers.

Highlighting the incredible natural landscapes and scenic views along the way

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Nestled within the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route (COBDR) offers an unforgettable journey filled with awe-inspiring natural landscapes and breathtaking scenic views. This iconic route takes adventurous explorers along a carefully crafted path that showcases the diverse beauty of Colorado’s wilderness.

As you embark on the COBDR, you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of rugged mountains, lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and crystal-clear rivers. The route winds its way through remote valleys and high alpine passes, providing uninterrupted access to the state’s most picturesque locations.

One highlight of the COBDR is the mesmerizing vistas that await around every twist and turn. From the stunning views of the San Juan Mountains to the expansive panoramas of the Continental Divide, the route offers a constant feast for the eyes. As you ride along the trail, you’ll have ample opportunities to pause, take in the surrounding natural beauty, and snap some truly postcard-worthy photographs.

The COBDR also introduces you to a variety of unique ecosystems and geological wonders. Traverse through dense pine forests, where the scent of evergreens fills the air, and listen to the gentle breeze rustling through the aspens’ leaves. Along the way, you might come across hidden alpine meadows teeming with wildflowers, providing a vibrant burst of color against the backdrop of towering summits.

As you climb higher into the mountains, you’ll encounter majestic rock formations, sculpted by millions of years of wind and weather. Marvel at the intricately carved canyons and jagged cliffs, evidence of the forces of nature at work. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife as well, as the Colorado wilderness is home to a diverse range of species, including elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and even the elusive black bear.

The COBDR is more than just a challenging off-road adventure—it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the untouched beauty of Colorado’s backcountry. Whether you’re an avid off-road enthusiast or simply a nature lover seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, this route will leave you in awe of the natural wonders that Colorado has to offer. So, gear up, strap in, and prepare yourself for an unforgettable journey through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the United States.

Discussion of the route’s historical significance and cultural attractions

Colorado Back Country Discovery Route

The Colorado Back Country Discovery Route is not only an adventurous trail for nature enthusiasts but also a journey through history and culture. As you traverse the route, you’ll come across numerous sites that hold historical significance and cultural attractions worth exploring.

One such area is the historic mining town of Leadville, known for its rich gold and silver mining history. Take a walk through its well-preserved streets and witness the remnants of its glorious past. The renowned Tabor Opera House, built in the late 19th century, stands as a testament to the town’s former prosperity. With its stunning architecture and captivating performances, this venue offers a unique glimpse into Leadville’s cultural heritage.

Continuing on the route, you’ll pass through the enchanting San Isabel National Forest, where you can take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding landscape. This region is known for its diverse flora and fauna, making it a paradise for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. Keep an eye out for the abundance of wildflowers that bloom during spring and early summer, painting the meadows with vibrant colors.

As you venture further, make a short detour to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. These towering dunes rise against the backdrop of the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, creating a surreal landscape. Take a hike through the dunes, sandboard down their slopes, or simply soak in the awe-inspiring natural beauty.

History enthusiasts will find fascination in the nearby Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the well-preserved ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings. Learn about the ancestral Puebloans’ way of life as you explore the remarkable architecture built into the cliffs over 700 years ago. Marvel at the intricate designs, expert masonry, and innovative engineering that have stood the test of time.

No journey on the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route would be complete without a stop in Durango, a town known for its rich Wild West heritage. Immerse yourself in the Old West atmosphere as you stroll along its historic Main Avenue, lined with charming Victorian-era buildings that now house eclectic shops and restaurants. Don’t miss the opportunity to hop aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a scenic steam train that takes you on a breathtaking journey through the rugged mountains and canyons.

The Colorado Back Country Discovery Route presents an unrivaled opportunity to not only connect with nature but also delve into the intriguing history and culture of the region. As you embark on this unforgettable adventure, take the time to explore the historical sites and cultural attractions that await, offering a deeper understanding of Colorado’s past and present.

Tips for choosing the right vehicle and equipment for a successful journey

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When embarking on the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route, ensuring that you have the right vehicle and equipment is crucial for a successful journey. The rugged terrain and challenging road conditions demand reliable and well-equipped vehicles to navigate through the backcountry of Colorado. Here are some valuable tips to help you choose the right vehicle and equipment for your adventure:

1. Select a suitable vehicle: Opt for a 4×4 vehicle with high ground clearance. SUVs, trucks, or specially designed off-road vehicles are most suitable for traversing the challenging terrain of the Colorado backcountry. Ensure your vehicle has good off-road capabilities, a robust suspension system, and all-terrain tires to handle uneven surfaces and rocky trails. There are many Adventure and Off-road motorcycles suitable to handle this terrain.

2. Consider storage capacity: Choose a vehicle with ample storage space to accommodate all your gear, supplies, and equipment. Properly organizing your equipment will make the journey more convenient and efficient. Look for vehicles with roof racks or bed storage options to maximize the available space.

3. Equip your vehicle with essential modifications: Consider adding modifications to enhance your vehicle’s off-road capabilities. Upgrades such as skid plates, reinforced bumpers, a winch, and rock sliders can provide extra protection and traction in challenging situations. Additionally, installing a snorkel can help your vehicle navigate water crossings more effectively.

4. Safety and recovery equipment: Equip your vehicle with necessary safety and recovery equipment. Carry a comprehensive first aid kit, fire extinguisher, roadside emergency kit, and a reliable communication device to ensure your safety in case of emergencies. Don’t forget to bring recovery equipment such as tow straps, shackles, a shovel, and a high-lift jack to assist in vehicle recovery if needed.

5. Navigation tools: Invest in reliable navigation tools such as a GPS device, topographic maps, and a compass. Familiarize yourself with the route you will be taking and have a backup plan in case of any unforeseen circumstances. A GPS with pre-loaded maps specifically designed for off-road use can be extremely helpful in navigating through the often unmarked trails of the backcountry.

6. Communication and emergency services: Before setting off, inform someone about your travel plans, routes, and expected return time. Carry a satellite phone or emergency locator beacon for areas with limited or no cell phone coverage. These devices can be life-saving in situations where you require immediate assistance.

Remember, thorough preparation and appropriate vehicle selection are fundamental to ensure a safe and successful journey along the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route. Prioritize safety, reliability, and essential equipment, allowing you to fully enjoy the breathtaking scenery and unique challenges that the backcountry has to offer.

Safety precautions and emergency resources to consider


As you embark on your adventure along the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route, it is essential to prioritize safety and be prepared for any unforeseen emergencies. The rugged and remote nature of the backcountry can present unique challenges, so we have compiled a list of safety precautions to consider and emergency resources to have in mind during your journey.

1. Plan and Prepare:
Before setting off on your route, make sure to plan and research your trip thoroughly. Study the route, terrain, and weather conditions to understand what you may encounter along the way. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the mileage, difficulty level, and any potential hazards.

2. Vehicle Maintenance:
Ensure that your vehicle is in optimal condition before hitting the backcountry. This includes checking the tires, brakes, engine fluids, and other vital components. Regular vehicle maintenance can help prevent breakdowns and avoid being stranded in remote areas.

3. Navigation Tools:
Invest in reliable navigation tools such as GPS, topographic maps, and a compass. Familiarize yourself with using these tools to navigate the backcountry effectively. It is also wise to have a backup navigation option in case of device failure or loss.

4. Communication:
Maintaining communication in the backcountry is crucial. Equip yourself with a reliable two-way radio or a satellite communication device. These tools can become essential during emergencies, allowing you to reach out for help or communicate with fellow adventurers.

5. First Aid Kit:
Pack a well-stocked, comprehensive first aid kit to handle any minor injuries or medical situations that might occur during your trip. Include items like bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any prescription medication you may need.

6. Emergency Supplies:
Prepare an emergency supply kit tailored to backcountry needs. This should include essentials such as extra food, water, emergency blankets, flashlight, matches, and a multi-tool. These supplies can sustain you in case of unforeseen circumstances or extended stays.

7. Weather Awareness:
Pay close attention to weather forecasts prior to and during your journey. Colorado’s mountainous terrain can experience fast-changing weather conditions, so it is vital to be prepared for sudden rain, snowstorms, or extreme temperatures. Adjust your plans accordingly and never underestimate the power of nature.

8. Emergency Contacts:
Take note of emergency contact numbers such as local authorities, search and rescue teams, and nearby medical facilities. Save these numbers in your phone, write them down, and keep a copy with your travel companions.

9. Share Your Itinerary:
Inform a trusted friend or family member about your trip itinerary, including your expected route, timeline, and expected return date. This way, someone will know when to raise the alarm, should you not return as planned.

10. Stay Informed:
Keep yourself updated on current road conditions, closures, and any potential hazards along the route. Government websites and local ranger stations often provide this information. Following relevant social media channels or online forums dedicated to backcountry exploration can also provide valuable insights.

Remember, your safety should always be the top priority during your adventure along the Colorado Back Country Discovery Route. By embracing these safety precautions and being adequately prepared for emergencies, you can enjoy the stunning scenery and exhilarating experiences while minimizing risks and ensuring peace of mind.

Interested in traveling the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route? Visit here for maps and information:

Frontier Adventure

5 Reasons You Must Backpack Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

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By Michael Lanza

Chances are that, by now, you’ve heard of Idaho’s Sawtooths—having typed that name into a search box may be the reason you’ve landed on this story. Maybe you’ve been intrigued at what you’ve heard or images you’ve seen from Idaho’s best-known mountain range. Perhaps you’ve even been there and the experience has only amplified your curiosity to see more of this range.

As someone who’s had the good fortune of having backpacked all over the country and in many other countries over the past three-plus decades, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog, I rank the Sawtooths among the 10 best backpacking trips in America.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.
” data-image-caption=”Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ src=”×1024.jpg?resize=683%2C1024&ssl=1″ alt=”Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.” class=”wp-image-45355″ style=”width:572px;height:auto” srcset=” 683w, 200w, 768w, 800w” sizes=”(max-width: 683px) 100vw, 683px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.

I’ve wandered around the Sawtooths at least a couple dozen times over more than two decades, including numerous backpacking trips, dayhikes, peak scrambles, rock climbing, and backcountry skiing. While there remain peaks on my list to climb, a few trails to hike, and many lakes to leap into (or just sit beside), the Sawtooths have become my backyard mountains. I feel at home there.

This story presents the five reasons I think every backpacker should take a multi-day hike through the Sawtooths—spotlighting the characteristics of a trip there that make this place unique. I believe this argument may persuade you to go (if, somehow, the photos don’t do it).

See my e-book “The Best Backpacking Trip in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains” to learn all you need to know to plan and pull off a five-day, 36-mile Sawtooths hike through the core of the Sawtooths, and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan every detail of a multi-day hike there.

Please share your thoughts or experiences there in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I
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The Venerable Hubble Space Telescope Keeps Delivering

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The world was much different in 1990 when NASA astronauts removed the Hubble Space Telescope from Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay and placed it into orbit. The Cold War was ending, there were only 5.3 billion humans, and the World Wide Web had just come online.

Now, the old Soviet Union is gone, replaced by a smaller but no less militaristic Russia. The human population has ballooned to 8.1 billion. The internet is a fixture in daily life. We also have a new, more powerful space telescope, the JWST.

But the Hubble keeps delivering, as this latest image shows.

The lenticular galaxy NGC 4753 is about 60 million light-years away. Lenticular galaxies are midway between elliptical and spiral galaxies. They have large-scale disks but only poorly defined spiral arms. NGC 4753 sees very little star formation because like other lenticulars, it’s used up most of its gas. The fact that they contain mostly older stars makes them similar to elliptical galaxies.

Among lenticulars, NGC 4753 is known for the dust lanes surrounding its nucleus. Astronomers think that spirals evolve into lenticulars in dense environments because they interact with other galaxies and with the intergalactic medium. However, NGC 4753 is in a low-density environment. Its environment and complex structure make it a target for astronomers to test their theories of galaxy formation and evolution.

This Hubble image is the sharpest ever taken of NGC 4753, revealing its intriguing complexity and highlighting the space telescope’s impressive resolving power.

Astronomers think that NGC 4753 is the result of a merger with a dwarf galaxy over one billion years ago. The dwarf galaxy was gas-rich, and NGC 4753's distinct dust rings probably accreted from the merger. NGC 4753's powerful gravity then shaped the gas into the complex shapes we see in this image. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Kelsey
Astronomers think that NGC 4753 is the result of a merger with a dwarf galaxy over one billion years ago. The dwarf galaxy was gas-rich, and NGC 4753’s distinct dust rings probably accreted from the merger. NGC 4753’s powerful gravity then shaped the gas into the complex shapes we see in this image. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Kelsey

NGC 4763’s unique structure results from a merger with a dwarf galaxy about 1.3 billion years ago. The video below from NOIRlab explains what happened.

NGC 4753 also hosts two known Type 1a supernovae, which are important because they help astronomers study the expansion of the Universe. They serve as standard candles, an important rung in the cosmic distance ladder.

Galaxies like NGC 4753 may not be rare, but the viewing angle plays a key role in identifying them. Our edge-on view of the galaxy makes its lenticular form clear. We could be seeing others like it from different angles that obscure its nature.

This is a model of NGC 4753, as seen from various viewing orientations. From left to right and top to bottom, the angle of the line of sight to the galaxy's equatorial plane ranges from 10° to 90° in steps of 10°. Although galaxies similar to NGC 4753 may not be rare, only certain viewing orientations allow for easy identification of a highly twisted disk. This infographic is a recreation of Figure 7 from a 1992 research paper.
This is a model of NGC
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Juno Reveals Secrets About Europa’s Icy Surface

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Europa has always held a fascination to me. I think it’s the concept of a world with a sub-surface ocean and the possibility of life that has inspired me and many others. In September 2022, NASAs Juno spacecraft made a flyby, coming within 355 kilometres of the surface. Since the encounter, scientists have been exploring the images and have identified regions where brine may have bubbled to the surface. Other images revealed possible, previously unidentified steep-walled depressions up to 50km wide, this could be caused by a free-floating ocean! 

Juno was launched to Jupiter on 5 August 2011. It took off from the Cape Canaveral site on board an Atlas V rocket and travelled around 3 billion kilometres. It arrived at Jupiter on 4 July 2016 and in September 2022 made its closest flyby of Europa. The frozen world is the second of the four Galilean satellites that were discovered by Galileo over 400 years ago. Visible in small telescopes, the true nature of the moon is only detectable by visiting craft like Juno. 

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Artist’s impression of NASA’s Galileo space probe in orbit of Jupiter. Credit: NASA

During its close fly-by, one of the onboard cameras known as Juno-Cam took the highest resolution images of the moon since Galileo took a flyby in 2000. The images supported the long held theory that the icy crusts at the north and south poles are not where they used to be. Another instrument on board, known as the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), revealed possible activity resembling plumes where brine may have bubbled to the surface.

The ground track over Europa that was followed by Juno enabled imaging around the equatorial regions. The images revealed the usual, expected blocks of ice, walls, ridges and scarps but also found something else. Steep walled depressions that measured 20 to 50 kilometres across were also seen and they resembled large ovoid pits. 

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One of Juno’s enormous solar panels, unfurled on Earth. NASA/JPL. SWrI

The observations of the meanderings of the north/south polar ice and the varied surface features all point towards an outer icy shell that is free-floating upon the sub surface ocean. This can only happen if the outer shell is not connected to the rocky interior. When this happens, there are high levels of stress on the ice which then causes the fracture pattern witnessed. The images represent the first time such patterns have been seen in the southern hemisphere, the first evidence of true polar wandering.

The images from the SRU surprisingly provided the best quality images. It was originally designed to detect faint light from stars for navigation. Instead, the team used it to capture images when Europa was illuminated by the gentle glow of sunlight reflected from Jupiter. It was quite a novel approach and allowed complex features to become far more pronounced than before. Intricate networks of ridges criss-crossing the surface were identified along with dark stains from water plumes. One feature in particular stood out, nicknamed ‘the Platypus’, it was a 37 kilometre by 67 kilometre region shaped somewhat like a platypus.

Source : NASA’s Juno Provides High-Definition Views of Europa’s Icy Shell

The post Juno Reveals Secrets About Europa’s Icy Surface appeared first on Universe Today.

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