Europa is the fourth largest of Jupiter’s moons. Like Io, Callisto and Ganymede, it was discovered by Galileo and the German astronomer Simon Marius in 1610.
Europa’s icy surface is relatively smooth and has distinctive linear ridges, cracks and flows. Many scientists believe that liquid water oceans may lie beneath this outer ice layer, making Europa a place where life could exist.
Europa i/jʊˈroʊpə/ (Jupiter II), is the sixth closest moon of the planet Jupiter, and the smallest of its four Galilean satellites, but still one of the largest moons in the Solar System. Europa was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei and possibly independently by Simon Marius around the same time. Progressively more in-depth observation of Europa has occurred over the centuries by Earth-bound telescopes, and by space probe flybys starting in the 1970s.
Slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and probably has an iron core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is composed of water ice and is one of the smoothest in the Solar System. This surface is striated by cracks and streaks, while cratering is relatively infrequent. 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 energy from tidal flexing causes the ocean to remain liquid and drives geological activity similar to plate tectonics.
The Galileo mission, launched in 1989, provided the bulk of current data on Europa. Although only fly-by missions have visited the moon, the intriguing characteristics of Europa have led to several ambitious exploration proposals. The next mission to Europa is the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), due to launch in 2022.