The icy moon of Jupiter, Europe, is the subject of NASA’s latest image, which shows the moon bathed in a bright, icy blue glow. The image focuses on the “night side” of the moon, the part that faces away from the Sun, revealing what its brightness might look like as a result of Jupiter’s radiation.
Europe is, as NASA explains, hit by high-energy radiation. The cold and salty surface found in Europa is irradiated and shines as a result of the release of energy as visible light. This part is not surprising, according to NASA.
The most recent work reveals how that brightness can be, influenced by the composition of Europa’s surface. The researchers found that different ice compositions would result in variations in brightness, something described as surprising serendipity.
The co-author of the new study, Fred Bateman, explained: “Seeing the sodium chloride brine with a significantly lower level of brightness was the ‘aha’ moment that changed the course of the research.” The resulting glow from the radiation means that Europa looks quite different from our own Moon, emitting a glow continuously, including on the “night side”.
Europa is one of several celestial bodies that have attracted the attention of Earth scientists. In the coming years, NASA plans to launch a mission called Europa Clipper that will orbit Jupiter and conduct several flights over Europe. Experts are evaluating whether the spacecraft’s instruments will be able to detect the moon’s brightness.