NASA has released a spectacular, reprocessed picture of Europa, Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon. The image showcases the natural satellite’s astounding colors in a completely new light – exactly how it would appear to the human eye with a comprehensive scale of one mile (1.6 km) per pixel.
The earliest images of Europa were gathered by the Galileo spacecraft, which explored Jupiter and its moons from orbit in the 1990s. NASA officials reprocessed Galileo’s collection using modern imaging techniques that improved on an enhanced-color view of Europa the organization had created in 2001.
“Space imaging enthusiasts have produced their own versions of the view using the publicly available data, but NASA has not previously issued its own rendition using near-natural color,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California wrote in a news release.
Revealed on November 21, the new photo depicts the largest proportion of Europa’s surface at the highest resolution ever illustrated, NASA officials reported.
The agency unveiled the striking image as it pushes forward with plans to look into Europa in the coming decades. According to scientists, there may be water – a complete ocean – lurking underneath the moon’s icy shell; if so, the water could possibly host life under the right conditions.
“The story of life on Earth may have begun in our oceans, and that’s because — of course — if we’ve learned anything about life on Earth, it’s that where you find the liquid water, you generally find life,” Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a new video about Europa.
Hand also indicated that Europa is a “game-changer” for life-seeking missions because the moon’s main source of energy comes from not the sun, but from Jupiter itself. The immense gravity from Jupiter causes Europa to flex as it rotates the huge gas giant; measurements of tidal flexing make it possible for moons and planets to host liquid water even if they are far from a star’s habitable zone.
Seemingly, flexing can not only create energy – it can also grind the water of the moon against rocks, creating life-bearing potential as long as building blocks, like amino acids, are available.
“Hidden beneath Europa’s icy surface is perhaps the most promising place in our solar system beyond Earth to look for present-day environments that are suitable for life,” NASA said in a statement.
NASA has presented multiple missions to Europa, including the $2 billion Europa Clipper, which would orbit Jupiter and get more data about the icy moon’s ocean in a number of flybys. If financed, the mission would launch around 2025.