Europa’s Chaos Terrain: new images reveal details of its surface

Hyperaxion May 5, 2020

NASA reprocessed images taken by the Galileo spacecraft to study the satellite’s terrain. Europa will be one of the destinations of the new mission scheduled for 2025.

NASA released three reprocessed images of Europa, the moon of the planet Jupiter. In the images, taken in 1998 by the Galileo spacecraft, we can see all the details of this beautiful satellite. Europa’s surface has a varied landscape, which includes mountain ranges, small rounded domes and disrupted spaces that geologists call “chaos terrain”.

Europa's Chaos Terrain: New images reveal details of its surface
(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

Although the data captured by Galileo is more than 20 years old, scientists are using modern image editing techniques to create new views of the moon’s surface. That’s because a new spacecraft, Europa Clipper, will be sent into Jupiter’s orbit in 2025 and will do dozens of flights around Europa.

Clipper’s goal is to learn more about the ocean below the moon’s icy crust and how that layer interacts with the surface. The mission, scheduled to be launched in the coming years, will be the first return to Europa since Galileo.

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

“We’ve only seen a very small part of Europa’s surface at this resolution. Europa Clipper will increase that immensely,” said planetary geologist Cynthia Phillips of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Galileo spacecraft made several black and white and color photos so that they could be combined into one photo. With reprocessing, NASA scientists intensified color variations to highlight different chemical compositions on the surface. The areas that appear light blue or white are made of relatively pure water ice, and the reddish areas have more non-ice materials, such as salts.

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

Scientists will use the images to study the formation of Europa’s surface. With an average of 40 to 90 million years, the surface is much younger than the moon itself, which formed 4.6 billion years ago. It is another one of the many intriguing facts about this object.

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