Europa Moon – Conamara Chaos – Planet Jupiter – Galileo Spacecraft 1997

Europa Moon - Conamara Chaos

This image shows detail of the Conamara Chaos region of the Europa moon.  It is a combination of pictures of Europa taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1996 and 1997.  The portion of Conamara presented is approximately 45 x 30 kilometers (28 x 19 miles).

The Conamara Chaos area is an example of chaotic terrain frequently found on the surface of Europa.  This type of terrain is believed to result from water, or possibly warmer ice, rising from the undersurface ocean and melting through the surface ice of the planet.  According to one theory, when this occurs the surface becomes open water with rafts of solid ice.  This water subsequently refreezes trapping these rafts at strange angles and giving rising to the chaotic appearance.

It is believed that all the ice in the picture was originally a blue color.  The white colored area on the left is believed to be fresh, fine ice particles that were layered on the surface after the impact that formed the crater Pwyll 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to the south.  The reddish-brown colored areas on the right are believed to represent minerals, such as salt, sulfur compounds, and possibly organic compounds that were previously sprayed on the surface from the ocean below.

Within the image some cracks can be seen that cut across the chaotic terrain.  These are believed to have been created as a result of local tectonic stress after the chaotic terrain was formed.

Scientists believe that evidence for an undersurface saltwater ocean on Europa is quite strong.  However, there is some debate as to how frequently this ocean interacts with the surface and the best location and method for seeking evidence of extraterrestrial life in future missions to Jupiter and the Europa moon.