Showing posts with label Space. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Space. Show all posts

Monday, 23 November 2015

Europa - The Jupitar's moon

Europa is the sixth-closest moon of Jupiter, and the smallest of its four Galilean satellites, but still the sixth-largest moon in the Solar System. Europa was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei.

Slightly smaller than the Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and has a water-ice crust and probably an iron–nickel core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is striated by cracks and streaks, whereas craters are relatively rare. It has the smoothest surface of any known solid object in the Solar System. The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably serve as an abode for extraterrestrial life. This hypothesis proposes that heat from tidal flexing causes the ocean to remain liquid and drives geological activity similar to plate tectonics. On 8 September 2014, NASA reported finding evidence supporting earlier suggestions of plate tectonics in Europa's thick ice shell—the first sign of such geological activity on a world other than Earth. On 12 May 2015, scientists announced that sea salt from a subsurface ocean may be coating some geological features on Europa, suggesting that the ocean is interacting with the seafloor. This may be important in determining if Europa could be habitable for life.

Europa orbits Jupiter in just over three and a half days, with an orbital radius of about 670,900 km. With an eccentricity of only 0.009, the orbit itself is nearly circular, and the orbital inclination relative to Jupiter's equatorial plane is small, at 0.470°. Like its fellow Galilean satellites, Europa is tidally locked to Jupiter, with one hemisphere of Europa constantly facing Jupiter. Because of this, there is a sub-Jovian point on Europa's surface, from which Jupiter would appear to hang directly overhead. Europa's prime meridian is the line intersecting this point. Research suggests the tidal locking may not be full, as a non-synchronous rotation has been proposed: Europa spins faster than it orbits, or at least did so in the past. This suggests an asymmetry in internal mass distribution and that a layer of subsurface liquid separates the icy crust from the rocky interior. As Europa comes slightly nearer to Jupiter, Jupiter's gravitational attraction increases, causing Europa to elongate towards and away from it. As Europa moves slightly away from Jupiter, Jupiter's gravitational force decreases, causing Europa to relax back into a more spherical shape, and creating tides in its ocean.

Europa is one of the smoothest objects in the Solar System when considering the lack of large scale features such as mountains or craters, however on a smaller scale Europa's equator has been theorised to be covered in 10 metre tall icy spikes called penitentes caused by the effect of direct overhead sunlight on the equator melting vertical cracks. There are few craters on Europa because its surface is tectonically active and young.

In July 2013 an updated concept for a flyby Europa mission called Europa Clipper was presented by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).In May 2015, NASA officially announced that it had accepted the Europa Clipper mission, and revealed the instruments it will use. The aim of Europa Clipper is to explore Europa in order to investigate its habitability, and to aid selecting sites for a future lander. The Europa Clipper would not orbit Europa, but instead orbit Jupiter and conduct 45 low-altitude flybys of Europa during its envisioned mission. The probe would carry an ice-penetrating radar, short-wave infrared spectrometer, topographical imager, and an ion- and neutral-mass spectrometer.