The colors of Europa‘s cracked surface in the image are associated with geologic features. The blue and white areas contain relatively pure ice. Red and brown correspond to areas that have non-ice components.
The mosaic is constructed from data returned by the Solid-State Imaging (SSI) experiment on NASA’s Galileo spacecraft during two of the mission’s orbits through the Jupiter system in 1995 and 1998. Even though some of the original data is almost two decades old, the updated global view is of great value to astrobiologists.
Europa is thought to harbor an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy surface. This makes the moon one of the most interesting locations in our solar system in which to study the potential for life beyond our planet.
The original release of the mosaic image from NASA’s Galileo mission can be seen above. This view is much lower in resolution and the colors have been enhanced. The colors in NASA’s new version of the image have been adjusted to represent what the human eye would actually see from orbit around the Jovian moon.
For comparison, the image below shows an even older close-up view of Europa from 1979. This photograph was captured by the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it zipped past the moon on July 9, 1979. It was the spacecraft’s closest approach to Europa before continuing its journey toward the outer solar system and beyond.
For more about Europa and its potential for life, cheack out this excellent video from the Jet Propulsion Laboratories featuring Kevin Hand:
Scientists believe there is an ocean hidden beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. NASA-JPL astrobiologist Kevin Hand explains why scientists are so excited about the potential of this ice-covered world to answer one of humanity’s most profound questions. Undersea footage provided by John Delaney, University of Washington. Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory