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Physics - Jupiter's Moons - Europa

Europa is a transitional world, with a density almost in the terrestrial planet league but an exterior that is icy down to a depth of about 100km.

It is not known whether the ice is solid throughout, or whether its lower part is liquid, which raises the fascinating possibility of a global ocean sandwiched between the solid ice and the underlying rock.

The Galileo Spacecraft picked up gravity data showing that, like Io, Europa has a dense, presumably iron-rich core (620km in radius) below its rocky mantle. Europa has its own magnetic field, but it is not clear whether this is generated by convection within a liquid core or within a salty ocean beneath the ice.

Jupiter's Moons - Europa

Europa has a highly reflective surface with an albedo (light reflected by a planet) of about 0.7, and it has been known since the 1950’s from spectroscopic studies that its composition is essentially that of clean water-ice.

More detailed recent observations by Galileo and the Hubble Space Telescope reveal some regions where the ice appears to be salty, and also the presence of molecular oxygen (O 2) and ozone (O 3).

The oxygen and ozone are thought to result from breakdown of water molecules in the ice because of exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation and charged particles.

The hydrogen so liberated would escape rapidly to space, which has been observed on Ganymede though not on Europa. It is not known whether the oxygen and ozone detected on Europa constitute an extremely tenuous atmosphere or are mainly trapped within the ice.

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