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Why Europa? and what's below the ice ?

Published by Rob on Sat Mar 17, 2007 11:54 am
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jupDuring last winter I was sat outside with my telescope looking to capture an image of the Big Red Spot (BRS) on Jupiter. I decided after hours of failure that I would increase the exposure times and managed to capture some photos of the Galilean Moons Europa, IO, Ganymede and Callisto. After a bit of research I started to realise how often Europa was being mentioned as a future exploration target.

Lately I have been amazed to see how the talk of getting a probe there has started to capture the headlines once again. Perhaps one of the biggest stories surrounding the moon is that scientists have created a geological map of the moon, the project fuelled by speculation of liquid water oceans below the layers of ice. A team at Arizona State University compiled the maps from data sent back by the US-European Galileo probe, Galileo explored the Jupiter system from 1995 to 2003.

When we make planetary maps, we’re pretty limited by fieldwork, so ‘ground truth-ing’ is difficult – but not impossible, as we’ve found with the Mars Rovers,” said Professor Ron Greeley, director of planetary geology at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, US.

“We have to rely on remote sensing information. On Earth, this is conventionally done in exploration for oil or mineral deposits. The data is used to make maps to figure out the best places to go and explore.

“That’s what we’re doing with Europa. We’re trying to figure out what’s what on the surface so we can go and explore further.”

Perhaps what makes this satellite such a good target is that it appears to have all of the ingredients for life. This was hypothesised when the first images were sent back of the moon; its surface is criss-crossed with fractures. Voyager 2, launched in 1977, was the first spacecraft to fly past Europa, sending back snatched glimpses of the surface at a resolution of about 2km per pixel.
Some suggest this is where the oceans are moving below. The ESa cosmic vision programme of space explorations exploring a potential link up with Japanese partners though some have suggested it is very ambitious and would be an extremely hard target to land on.

If life does exist on Europa it would be similar to life found in deep oceans here on earth, energy provided by the immense gravitational pull of Jupiter and liquid water would create an almost identical setup.

Article by Robert Goldsmith
Image By Robert Goldsmith (Objects left to right, Jupiter, IO, Europa)

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the exploration of Europa in the forum Here

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