Europa Facts

Europa got its name from Greek mythology. Europa was the famous daughter of the king of Tyre, the mother of King Minos and one of the lovers of Zeus who is known as Jupiter in Roman mythology. For a long time, the moon of Jupiter was also called Jupiter II.

Europa Profile

Interesting Europa Facts

  • Europa is one of Jupiter’s 79 moons.
  • It is one of the four main Jovian moons i.e. the Galilean moons.
  • It is the smallest of the four Galilean moons.
  • It was discovered by Galileo Galilei and Simon Marius in 1610.
  • It is also called Jupiter II.
  • It is the sixth largest moon in the solar system.
  • It is the sixth closest moon of Jupiter.
  • It was named after Europa, the Mother of King Minos from Greek mythology.
  • It has a radius of 1560.8 km.
  • Europa is 670,900 km away from Jupiter on an average.
  • It has an orbital period of 3.55 days.
  • Europa has an axial tilt of 0.1°.
  • Europe is the smooth known celestial body in the solar system. It only has three known creators that are larger than 5 kilometers in height.
  • Its orbit is affected by the presence of other Jovian and Galilean moons.
  • The discovery of the Galilean moons is one of the most significant ones in the history of astronomy as this discovery provided strong bases to the heliocentric theory that stated that the sun was at the center and other planets revolved around it. This is contradictory to the ancient belief of the earth being the center of the universe and all the moons and stars including the sun revolving around it.
  • Europa is around 4.5 billion years old. However, its surface is only about 20 to 180 million years old.
  • The potential for life on Europa has led to the moon becoming a popular and important setting for work of art in science fiction. Europa has been mentioned in several books, comic books, TV shows, films and most importantly video games.

History

Europa was discovered by Galileo Galilei and Simon Marius on 8th January 1610 along with Io, Ganymede and Callisto. Galileo Galilei actually observed the moon through a telescope on 7th January 1610 but he was not able to distinguish between Io and Europa.

The very next day that is on 8th January 1610, the two moons of Io and Europa were seen and identified as two separate bodies in the night sky.

It got its name Europa from Greek mythology. She was the famous daughter of the king of Tyre, the mother of King Minos and one of the lovers of Zeus who is known as Jupiter in Roman mythology. For a long time, the moon of Jupiter was also called Jupiter II. It is still sometimes referred by that name.

The four main moons of Jupiter were the first bodies discovered that revolved around a planet or a celestial body other than the earth. The discovery of Europa and the other Galilean satellites proved to be extremely significant in the world of astronomy because they provided strong evidence to the heliocentric theory.

It suggested that the sun is at the center and all the planets in the solar system revolved around it contrary to the common belief that the Earth was the center of the universe and all the other planets revolve around it.

Size

Europa is a big moon with a diameter of 3121.6 km and a circumference of 9806.8 km which makes it bigger than Mercury.

Appearance

Europa is the smoothest known celestial body in the solar system. It appears to be a greyish white in color with brown lines all over its surface. Some freckle like structures may also be visible on its surface.

The ground lines all over the surface of Europe are mainly due to the release of heat beneath its surface. This could be due to warm water and this acts as strong evidence for the fact that there exists an ocean beneath the surface of the Jovian Moon.

Magnetic field

It has been found out that Europa has an induced magnetic field as a result of its interaction with Jupiter. This suggests that a subsurface conductive material may be present on the moon. The magnetic field is roughly one sixth times that of the Ganymede. It is speculated to have a metallic iron core.

As the surface of Europa is tectonically very active because of its young age, some small craters may be present on the surface of the moon.

The surface of the moon is estimated to be around 20 to 180 million years old. Some striking features of the surface of Europa are called linea. They are basically of a pattern of crisscross lines all over the surface.

They can be cracks that move relative to each other. Some of them can be more than 20 km across. These lines may have been produced by the explosions or eruptions of hot water which lies under the crust.

Some other features present on the surface is a freckle like structures which are elliptical in shape. 

Orbit & Rotation

The Jovian moon is about 671000 km away from Jupiter and it completes one orbit around the planet in nearby 3 and a half days on earth. The moon is tidally locked to Jupiter and hence the rotation is synchronous. Some scientists believe that this tidal lock is not complete, and this rotation could be non-synchronous as well.

The orbit of the moon is extremely oblong. This is because of Europa’s interaction with its neighbor satellites of Io and Ganymede. Europa is slightly smaller than the moon.

Distance from Jupiter

Europa is about 671000 km away from Jupiter.

Atmosphere

Europe is known to have an atmosphere. It is however much thinner and tenuous than that of the earth.  It is composed of oxygen. However, Unlike the oxygen of the earth’s atmosphere, the oxygen in the atmosphere of Europa is not produced biologically but it may be produced due to the effect of charged particles that hit its vapor producing surface. 

Surface and Composition

It is quite similar to terrestrial planets in terms of composition and density. It is estimated to have a layer of water above its surface that is approximately 100 km thick. It is partly frozen in the form of ice and dust and partly liquid. It may be a saltwater ocean.

Europa is the smoothest known celestial body in the entire solar system. It does not have any mountains or craters on its surface.

However, the equatorial region of the Jovian moon contains icy spikes called penitents which can be as high as 10 meters tall.

Exploration of Europa

In 1973 and 1974 the pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 became the first to spacecraft to conduct a successful flyby of the planet Jupiter. The spacecraft also mark the beginning of the exploration of Jupiter’s moons which included Europa. The spacecraft provided photos of the Moon that had quite less in resolution.

In 1979 the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space crafts by NASA also conducted successful flybys of the planet Jupiter and its moons. It provided information about the icy moon of Jupiter in great detail.

These images led to the speculation that an ocean existed under the surface of Europa. From 1995 to 2003 the Galileo spacecraft revolved around the Jovian system for 8 years. It provided the most detailed examination of Jupiter and its moons up till today.

Galileo Mission
Galileo Mission

In 2007, New Horizons by NASA flew by the Jovian system and provided details about the planet and its moons while it was on its way to Pluto. 

In 2012, the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer or the JUICE spacecraft was selected as a planned mission to Jupiter and its moons by the European Space Agency or ESA. It was planed that the spacecraft will fly by the Jovian Moon system and the planet Jupiter itself.

In 2015, another mission called the Europe Clipper was announced by NASA. It was proposed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). Another project called the Europe Lander by NASA is currently under study. 

Europa is one of the celestial bodies where the potential for finding life or conditions suitable for life is the highest. Hence, Europa is a high-profile destination for spacecraft and space missions.

Many future missions are being planned to be sent to Jupiter and its moons to examine them further and searching for evidence or conditions suitable for life.

Galilean Satellites as an Important Discovery

In the ancient times people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and all other planets in the solar system the moon and the sun revolved around the earth. This was called the Geocentric astronomical model.

In the 16th century, Copernicus introduced another model which was called the Heliocentric model. This module was the total contradiction to geocentric model because it stated that the sun was the center and the planets revolved around it.

This led to the beginning of heated of debate between scientists. It divided scientists into two parts. It lasted for several years. In 1610 when Galileo Galilei discovered the four Galilean satellites it was an important development in the history of astrology.

As the moons of Jupiter were the first satellites to be discovered that orbited a planet other than the earth. This created a strong argument in favor of the heliocentric model. The Heliocentric model was finally accepted quite later.

Potential for Life

No human being has ever visited Europa. No evidence of life has ever been found on this moon yet. However, Europa remains a topic of constant speculation for scientists. It is one of those bodies of the solar system where the possibility of finding life is the highest.

As Europa may contain an enormous amount of water below its surface, it could mean that this moon could sustain life. Life could exist under the ocean below its icy surface.

Even though Europa does not exhibit any kind of volcanic activity, it is believed that levels of hydrogen and oxygen found on the earth can be produced on the moon through ice derived oxidants or serpentinization.

There are certain factors against the above assumptions. Some of them are

The thin atmosphere and the extreme or abnormal temperatures that are different from those on earth. Still, extensive research is going on about the moon and future space missions and spacecraft may be sent to Europa for further details and observations.

Europa in Pop Culture

Europa is the smallest of all the Jovian moon and the second closest moon to Jupiter. A scientist believes that an ocean of liquid water exists below it its surface. Europa has become a favored destination for work of Art in pop culture. It has been mentioned in several books, TV shows, movies, video games etc. They are mostly of the science fiction genre.

Some books that feature Europa are Redemption Cairn (1936), a short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum, The Wizard of Linn (1962) by A. E. van Vogt, 2010: Odyssey Two (1982) and 2061: Odyssey Three (1988) by Arthur C. Clarke, The Memory of Whiteness (1985) by Kim Stanley Robinson, Schismatrix (1985) by Bruce Sterling,  The Forge of God (1987) by Greg Bear, A Spy in Europa (1997), from the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds, Europa Strike (2000) by Ian Douglas, Outlaws of Europa (2002) by Michel Savage, The French comics Les Fantômes de Neptune (2015), by Valp, etc.

Some of the TV shows or movies featuring Europa are the anime series called Geneshaft, the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, the Futurama episode “Put Your Head on My Shoulders”, Voices of a Distant Star, the film Europa Report (2013) etc.

Some of the video games featuring the Jovian moon are the video game Infantry, the video game Battlezone, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Galaga: Destination Earth, the computer game Abyss: Incident at Europa, Descent, Descent 3, the role-playing game Transhuman Space (2002), Starlancer, Carnage Heart, Absolute Zero, Amiga, Redout etc. 

Timeline

  • 1610: Europa is discovered by Galileo Galilei
  • 1973-1974: Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 fly by Europa
  • 1979: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 send detailed photographs of the moon
  • 1995-2003: Spacecraft Galileo provides detailed insights about the Jovian system
  • 2007: NASA’s New Horizons flies by the Jovian system

References

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