Ice From Other (Atmo)spheres

Jupiter's Icy Moon Europa

Jupiter's Icy Moon Europa

Jupiter's Icy Moon Europa

Of all the exciting places to find ice: a rural german church, a warming hut, a plastic baget cetera none are quite as exciting as finding ice somewhere other than earth. It’s exciting to sciencefolk because it points to water, which points to the potential to find extraterrestrial microorganisms. To date, ice has been found on our moon, other planets and other planets’ moons. One of these icely-endowded moons is Europa, which orbits Jupiter along with 63 other natural satellites.

What’s remarkable about Europa is its surface: it’s smooth compared to other moons, but distinguished by shallow cracks and fissures across its icy surface. And the ice makes Europa very bright; so bright that even though it’s over 400 MILLION MILES AWAY, it was first observed 400 years ago using a rudimentary telescope. The images below were taken by space probes with much fancier telescopes. The top image shows Europa’s natural color while the lower ones are colored to exaggerate Europa’s surface features. I think the lineae created by ice tectonics are oddly beautiful. Europa may not have fancy hydrocarbons like Enceladus has spewing out of its south pole, but it has an atmosphere and maybe even a liquid ocean hidden below is icy and rugged surface.

Alex Dent

January 11, 2012 / By

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