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

A Lot Of Ice

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Like Earth, Europa is thought to have an iron core with a rocky mantle above and a layer of salty water. However, as mentioned, above that water, a massive layer of ice sits on the moon’s surface, giving Europa its high reflectivity. Amazingly, scientists hypothesize that Europa’s surface layer of ice could be as old as 180 million years. That is some old ice!

Aiding scientists here on Earth are the images received from NASA’s Galileospacecraft, which provided data suggesting that Europa’s icy surface layer can be up to 100 kilometers (62 mi) thick.The Galileo spacecraft made numerous flybys of Europa and also revealed strange landscapes of large pits connected to domes. What these landscapes suggest is that on Europa, the miles-thick ice surface seems to be turning over in large areas. Some scientists think the icy surface is convecting in part from heat from Europa’s much warmer core.

Chaos Regions

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The Galileo spacecraft also discovered strange broken slabs of polygonal ice sheets that were often covered in a reddish material. Scientists chose to call these areas “chaos terrain,” as it is still being debated as to why these landscapes resemble huge puzzle pieces.

As if these kinds of icy landscapes were not strange and inhospitable enough, in 2011, scientists studying Galileo images suggested that these types of chaos terrain areas were places where the surface collapsed into subsurface lakes, some of which hold more water than the volume of North America’s Great Lakes only a couple of miles below the icy surface!

It’s Pretty Cold

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While some people might vacation on Europe’s warm, breezy, and comfortable Mediterranean coast, Jupiter’s moon Europa offers a slightly colder alternative. Europa’s bleak and icy landscape might look scary, but its temperatures are beyond frigid.

On average, Europa’s surface temperatures are around –160 degrees Celsius (–260 °F) at the equator. It’s even cooler at the poles, with temperatures hanging around –220 degrees Celsius (–370 °F).

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