Jupiter's moon Europa detailed in a thermal and geologic map of its icy surface

Among the key findings from the map was a cold spot in Europa's Northern Hemisphere.

Jupiter’s moon Europa is thought to have had a long history of turbulent geological activity, based on observations of its fractured and cracked surface.

The icy moon has now been mapped in detail using images taken by the Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array (ALMA) telescope, producing the first global thermal map of Europa.

Researchers has said the map’s resolution of approximately 200 kilometres would be enough to study any changes in surface temperatures or significant geologic activity on the moon.

This newly collected data was compared to the last similar effort to study Europa’s surface, by the Galileo spacecraft starting 1995, to produce the final map.

A notable finding from the map was a cold spot on the moon’s Northern Hemisphere.

A thermal map of Europa. Image courtesy: ALMA/NASA

A thermal map of Europa. Image courtesy: ALMA/NASA

"These ALMA images are really interesting… they provide the first global map of Europa's thermal emissions," Samantha Trumbo, lead author of the study from CalTech was quoted to have said in a National Radio Astronomy Observatory report.

"Since Europa is an ocean world with potential geologic activity, its surface temperatures are of great interest because they may constrain the locations and extents of any such activity."
Past findings about Europa has suggested that Europa has a large reservoir of brine (salt water) under its thin icy surface and above a rocky core.

Consider the relatively young of Europa’s surface — 20 to 180 million years old — it is highly likely that there are still many thermal and geological forces at work in that region.

Radio and millimeter-wave telescopes like ALMA (unlike optical telescopes like Hubble) can see a thermal “glow” from even cold objects like asteroids, comets and moons.

"Studying Europa's thermal properties provides a unique means of understanding its surface," Bryan Butler, astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and coauthor on the paper, was quoted to have said in the report.

The findings from the study were published in the Astronomical Journal.

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