10 Out-Of-This-World Facts About Jupiter’s Moon Europa

Jupiter’s moon Europa is a cold, icy, and bright oddity in our solar system. Europa, roughly the size of Earth’s own Moon, is the smallest of Jupiter’s four Galilean moons, which can easily be seen with even the smallest of telescopes here on Earth. It is the second-closest of the Galilean moons to Jupiter after Io, which means it is bombarded with immense radiation from its massive parent planet. Europa is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old and is about 780 million kilometers (485 million mi) from the Sun. Europa orbits Jupiter every three and a half days at an average distance of about 671,000 kilometers (417,000 mi) and is tidally locked, meaning the same side of the moon always faces the gas giant. Europa is 3,100 kilometers (1,900 mi) in diameter, larger than Pluto, making it the 15th-largest body in the solar system.

Since Europa is rich with water ice, many scientists propose that it could host life, despite being incredibly cold. Also interesting is that Europa has a magnetic field, which means that something underneath its surface is conductive. Europa has long been an object of scientific curiosity for researchers on Earth. The Voyager and Galileo spacecrafts each sent back detailed images of the moon’s strange surface, and future NASA missions to study Europa are planned. In this list, we review ten amazing facts regarding this weird and out-of-this-world moon!

Europa And Earth’s History

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Galileo Galilei, one of the greatest early astronomers, first documented Europa on January 8, 1610.Europa, along with Io, Callisto, and Ganymede, came to be known as the Galilean moons.

Using a very low-powered telescope during the 17th century, Galileo likely had trouble distinguishing between the four moons he spotted as faint points of light near Jupiter. However, while Galileo’s discovery of four new heavenly bodies is, in itself, amazing, given the era and the early technology he was using, his findings were to have a profound influence on European history for centuries to come. The discovery of Europa, along with the other three Galilean moons, proved that our Earth was not the center of the universe, thus proving that everything in the night sky did not, in fact, orbit our planet.

Europa’s Name

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In Greek mythology, Europa is the name of a young woman who was the daughter of a king. Europa was one of Zeus’s lovers and was made the queen of the island of Crete by Zeus. Europa, in true mythological fashion, was abducted by Zeus, who took the form of a white bull. After adorning the bull with flowers, Europa rode it to the island of Crete, where Zeus—the counterpart to the Roman god Jupiter—revealed his true form and seducedEuropa with his power.

For centuries, the idea of giving mythological names to the Galiean moons was unpopular. (Europa has also been referred to as “Jupiter II.”) By the 20th century, however, scientists were calling the moons Europa, Io, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Cracks And Mounds

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Europa’s icy surface is generally smooth, indicating that water from beneath the frigid moon’s surface seeps upward and freezes. However, there are craggy dark and bright streaks as well as a handful of craters on the surface. Pwyll, the largest crater on Europa, is one of the most obvious features on the Jovian moon. It was first observed by NASA’s Voyager probe. Pwyll is estimated to be around 18 million years old and is 25 kilometers (16 mi) across!

Other features, called lineae, are Europa’s most brilliant characteristics. Thousands of dark, streaking lineae, or “lines,” cross each other throughout Europa’s entire surface. These “lines” are deep cracks in the ice. Scientific research has shown that the icy crust on both sides of the lineae are spreading away from each other. Amazingly, some of the larger of Europa’s lineae have been shown to be 20 kilometers (12 mi) across. Scientists hypothesize that the lineae are produced by waves of eruptions of warmer ice as Europa’s crust spreads, opens, and exposes the warmer layers of ice below. The cause of the warmer bulges of ice below is thought to come from the immense radiation emitted by Jupiter itself.

Other weird features of Europa’s surface include circular freckles referred to as lenticulae. These freckles are dome-like features, whereas others are pit-like, giving images from NASA spacescraft a mottled and rough landscape. The tops of these lenticulae are similar in texture to the surfaces below them, perhaps suggesting that the dome-like features were pushed up somehow. One hypothesis about the freckled landscape argues that these lenticulae were also formed by warm ice rising up through the colder ice of the outer crust, similar to magma rising below Earth’s surface. Yet another strange feature of Europa is its very high reflectivity. Its icy surface makes it one of the most reflective, or shiny, objects in the solar system!

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