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Amazing new NASA image of Europa could spark renewed interest in mission to the icy moon


Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, November 25, 2014, 1:45 PM -

Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, is an amazing, incredible place, and a new, remastered image of its surface, as well as a new video by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, highlight just how important this tiny moon may be in our search of the other worlds, and in how we define ourselves and our place in the universe.

When NASA's Galileo spacecraft visited the Jupiter system in the 1990s, it snapped some of the best images we've seen of the giant planet and its collection of moons since the Voyager probes flew past, about 20 years earlier.


RELATED: Jupiter's famous sunspot is actually a sunburn


One of Galileo's targets was Europa, the smallest of the planet's four largest moons - known as the Galilean moons, after their discoverer, Galileo Galilei. Although we've known that Europa is covered in ice since the 1960s, and various spacecraft have taken images of the surface in the years since, this latest image is the best yet.

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The previous version of this image, released as a composite of images taken in 1995 and 1998, was enhanced to highlight surface features, and wasn't quite as high-resolution. This new version has been reprocessed and remastered to appear roughly as it would if we were looking at the moon from the porthole of an orbiting spacecraft. The view is pretty spectacular, to say the very least, showing off the surface at a level of detail and colour that we've rarely - if ever - seen before.

According to the NASA/JPL website:

                    

Color variations across the surface are associated with differences in geologic feature type and location. For example, areas that appear blue or white contain relatively pure water ice, while reddish and brownish areas include non-ice components in higher concentrations. The polar regions, visible at the left and right of this view, are noticeably bluer than the more equatorial latitudes, which look more white. This color variation is thought to be due to differences in ice grain size in the two locations.

                    


RELATED: See the 'Center of Our Universe' deep inside NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory


One of the most incredible discoveries about Europa is that the icy surface very likely hides a deep, global ocean, which could have more liquid water than is contained in Earth's oceans. The presence of this ocean, heated by tidal forces from Jupiter and the other Galilean moons, makes Europa one of the best candidates in our solar system for the search for extraterrestrial life.

This idea has already been explored in science fiction, with novels such as Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 series and even the more recent horror-scifi movie Europa Report. There have been several real missions that have investigated the moon, and according to The Planetary Society's Casey Drier, with John Culberson, the Republican representative from Texas, set to take over as leader of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee, the possibility of a future mission becoming a reality may have just gotten a lot more likely.

If there was life in Europa's briny sub-surface ocean, what would it be like? As the video below details, NASA scientists already have some ideas...

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