Jupiter's moon Europa is just as far away as ever, but new research and enhanced remote sensing techniques are bringing scientists closer to being able to explore its tantalizing ice-covered ocean and determine its potential for harboring life.
New models and research of the moon's surface, internal ocean and deeper interior, and improved understanding of probing techniques, such as radar, are providing a new view on how best to explore this water world in the future.
Refined methods can use combined measurements of gravity and the magnetic field made from orbit to characterize Europa's ocean. These measurements include how thick or thin the ice is over the ocean and how salty the ocean may be.
Sophisticated reprocessing of data from NASA's Galileo mission has revealed new information about the chemistry of Europa's surface. A new model shows that radiation on Europa is much less than previous models predicted, making the environment much more hospitable for orbiting spacecraft or landers to operate.
Future explorations of Europa will benefit from lessons learned from the Cassini spacecraft's recent findings of active geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus.
Researchers are also preparing for a time in the future when they will be able to get to Europa's surface and ultimately into its ocean to explore it directly.
Full News Release from Washington University in St. Louis
Last Updated: 3 February 2011