Europa’s Icy Surface Looks Like Cracked Glass

This is a false-colour image of Europa, Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon, a water-covered giant with the smoothest surface in the Solar System. And yet I could still swear I’m looking at the end result of a football going through a stained-glass window.

The image, taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, shows a region charmingly known as the Conamara Chaos. The criss-cross chunks of ice are probably caused by asteroid impacts, which moves the ice around, before it refreezes in the haphazard pattern you can see above. Other theories put the chaos regions down to global ocean currents, which cause melting and upwelling at the surface.

Europa is one of the more promising candidates for finding life in our solar system, thanks to the liquid nature of the moon, and previous traces of minerals found on the surface. NASA is planning a mission to poke around under the surface, quite possibly using a scary-looking robot eel, powered by magnetic fields.

Picture: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona