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Jupiter Summary

Jupiter

Jupiter Moon: Europa!

This color image of Jupiter was taken by the camera onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft when it was 81.3 million kilometers from the planet.  Jupiter's moon Europa is seen at the right, casting a shadow on the planet. Scientists believe Europa holds promise of a liquid ocean beneath its surface.

Europa is about 3,160 kilometers in diameter, or about the size of Earth's moon. It is the smallest of the four Galilean moons and Europa's surface is remarkably smooth and flat. Recently, several craters were discovered that indicated that the moon has some deep layers of water and ice with tidal heating at a relatively shallow depth. The water ice layer extends some 5 kilometers (3 miles) into the moon and may have oceans at depths greater than 50 kilometers. Long ridges can be seen crossing the planet's surface in this ice. Scientists believe that these ridges could be the result of the moon's expansion that shattered the icy crust into deep streaks; which in turn filled with water and froze. Some of the fractures formed ice plates or slabs that can reach lengths of 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) across.

North is to the top of the picture, and Jupiter is towards the right. The images were taken on May 31, 1998 at a range of 1.3 million kilometers by Galileo.

This color composite view combines violet, green, and infrared images of Jupiter's intriguing moon, Europa, for a view of the moon in natural color (left) and in enhanced color designed to bring out subtle color differences in the surface (right). The bright white and bluish part of Europa's surface is composed mostly of water ice, with very few non-ice materials. In contrast, the brownish mottled regions on the right side of the image may be covered by hydrated salts and an unknown red component. The yellowish mottled terrain on the left side of the image is caused by some other unknown component. Long, dark lines are fractures in the crust, some of which are more than 3,000 kilometers (1,850 miles) long.

This is an enhanced color image of the young impact crater Pwyll on Jupiter's moon Europa that was produced by combining a mosaic of images obtained on December 19, 1996 by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. North is toward the top of the image, and the sun illuminates the surface from the east. This mosaic of Europa, the smallest Galilean satellite, was taken by Voyager 2. The bright areas are probably ice deposits, whereas the darkened areas may be the rocky surface or areas with a more patchy distribution of ice.

LIFE! Together with Mars, Callisto, and Titan, Europa is considered one of the most biologically interesting worlds in the solar system. There are two main reasons for this: (1) the possible presence of a sub-surface ocean of liquid water which could provide a medium and solvent for life, and 2nd the possible presence of undersea volcanic vents. On Earth, in recent years, a profusion of previously unsuspected life-forms has been found at great ocean depths, thriving, in the absence of both light and oxygen, on chemical nutrients upwelling through hydrothermal vents from the interior of the planet. Indeed, many scientists now speculate that terrestrial life may actually have evolved under such conditions. Europan life, too, may have arisen in this way.

Europa was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei.


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