Europa is the smallest of the Galilean moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. It is a young moon with an extremely smooth surface of ice.
Europa was discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Its discovery along with the discovery of Callisto, Ganymede and Io, changed the way we think about the structure of our solar system. The discovery provided evidence to support the Copernican heliocentric model, replacing the geocentric model.
Europa is the smallest of the Galilean moons of Jupiter. It is the sixth closest moon to the planet. The moon was named after the Greek mythological character Europa, who is the mother of King Minos. Like all the other Galilean moons it is named after a lover of the Greek god Zeus, whose Roman name is Jupiter. Europa orbits Jupiter every three and a half days. The moon is tidally locked to Jupiter, meaning one side always points towards the planet.
Europa is believed to have an iron-based core, a rocky mantle, and a thin atmosphere made of mainly oxygen. The moon seems to have a very smooth crust which has led scientists to believe that the moon is very young and has a crust made of frozen water. Some scientists believe that under the ice crust there could be liquid water. Because the moon has an elliptical orbit, Europa’s distance from Jupiter varies as it completes its revolution. This change in distance varies the gravitational force and the shape of the moon, which has caused fractures lines that can be seen on Europa’s surface.
Europa, as with all the Galilean moons, has been visited by the NASA Pioneer 10 mission. The Pioneer missions provided some low resolution images of the surface. Better images of the surface came back after the Voyager mission visited the Jovian system in 1979. Later the Galileo space probe spent eight years orbiting Jupiter starting in 1995. This mission provided the most comprehensive information we have. Future missions to Europa will try to find out if there is any liquid water oceans on the moon, as there are scientists who believe there is a potential for life.
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