Jupiter’s moon Europa is one of the most fascinating worlds in our solar system. Its cracked icy crust is known to hide vast watery oceans that actively cycle oxygen and nutrients from the surface to its depths, leading astrbiologists to hypothesize about its life-giving potential. And we’re not talking about single-celled bacteria — the moon has the potential to support complex lifeforms.
Now, in a newly released view of Europa’s cracked surface, ruddy veins of hydrated salts mixed with chemicals such as magnesium sulfate or sulfuric acid break up bluish slabs of pure water ice. Compiled from data collected by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, this image release only amplifies our fascination for the moon.
The colorized version of this observation, which measures 101×103 miles (163×167 kilometers), uses data that was collected in 1997 and 1998 during separate Galileo flybys. The spacecraft ended its mission in 2003 after NASA commanded it to crash into Jupiter’s atmosphere. This kamikaze ending was chosen as the spacecraft ran out of thruster fuel to avoid it crashing with Europa or the other Jovian satellites, potentially contaminating them with hardy Earth bacteria that may have been hiding in the probe’s components.
This view was originally released as a greyscale map after the first 1997 flyby, but after layering lower-resolution color data collected in 1998, a whole new dimension has been revealed. It is thought that the red veins reveal interactions from Europa’s surface ice with the ocean below.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could land a robotic mission near one of these veins, potentially finding an open fissure where a robotic Europa submersible could be dropped to seek out the lifeforms that may lie beneath.