October 15, 2016

Jupiter's moon Europa

Jupiter's moon Europa

Europa is the sixth-closest moon of Jupiter, and the smallest of its four Galilean satellites, and the sixth-largest moon in the Solar System. Europa was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei and was named after Zeus' (the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Jupiter) lover Europa, mother of King Minos of Crete. In addition to Earth-bound telescope observations, Europa has been examined by a succession of space probe flybys, the first occurring in the early 1970s.

Slightly smaller than the Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and has a water-ice crust and probably an iron–nickel core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is striated by cracks and streaks, whereas craters are relatively rare. It has the smoothest surface of any known solid object in the Solar System. The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably serve as an abode for extraterrestrial life. The predominant model suggests that heat from tidal flexing causes the ocean to remain liquid and drives ice movement similar to plate tectonics, absorbing chemicals from the surface into the ocean below. Also, sea salt from a subsurface ocean may be coating some geological features on Europa, suggesting that the ocean is interacting with the seafloor. This may be important in determining if Europa could be habitable.

In addition, the Hubble Space Telescope detected water vapor plumes similar to those observed on Saturn's moon Enceladus, which are thought to be caused by erupting cryogeysers.

The Galileo mission, launched in 1989, provides the bulk of current data on Europa. No spacecraft has yet landed on Europa, but its intriguing characteristics have led to several ambitious exploration proposals. The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) is a mission to Ganymede that is due to launch in 2022, but it will conduct two flybys of Europa. NASA's planned Europa Multiple-Flyby Mission will be launched in the mid-2020s.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/DLR
Explanation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europa_(moon)

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