NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 20 May 2023: STUNNING view of Jupiter's Moon Europa

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 20th May snaps Galileo's Europa moon which holds the possibility of life beyond Earth.

| Updated on: May 20 2023, 12:01 IST
Spectacular NASA Astronomy Pictures of the Week: Eagle Nebula, Dark Sunspots and more
NASA Eagle Nebula
1/5 The mesmerizing Eagle Nebula (May 15) - This is a snapshot of M16, also known as the Eagle Nebula which spans about 20 light-years across. The nebula, discovered in 1745 by the Swiss astronomer Jean-Philippe Loys de Chéseaux, is located 7,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Serpens, according to NASA. (NASA/Gianni Lacroce)
2/5 Sun’s Corona visible during solar eclipse (May 16) - Sun’s Corona was shot during a total solar eclipse. Temperatures in the Sun’s Corona can reach up to 2 million degrees and it is also the region where solar wind originates, according to NASA. While the hottest part of the Sun is its core, one of its most puzzling features is its Corona which extends more than 1 million kilometers from its surface. (NASA/Reinhold Wittich)
3/5 Sun’s Dark Sunspots (May 17) - Sunspots on the surface of the Sun in the active region AR 3297 were captured in this image. According to NASA, Sunspots are dark areas on the solar surface that contain strong magnetic fields that are constantly shifting and can form and dissipate over periods of days or weeks. They occur when strong magnetic fields emerge through the solar surface and allow the area to cool slightly. (NASA/Mark Johnston)
WR134 Ring Nebula
4/5 Breathtaking WR134 Ring Nebula (May 18) -  It is a breathtaking snapshot of the WR134 Ring Nebula, located about 6000 light-years from Earth towards the constellation Cygnus. At the center of the Nebula is the Wolf Rayet star WR 134 named after French astronomers Charles Wolf and Georges Rayet. (NASA/Craig Stocks)
NASA M63 Curly Spiral Galaxy
5/5 Snapshot of M63 Curly Spiral Galaxy (May 19) - The celestial object captured in this image is the M63 Curly Spiral Galaxy which is located about 30 million light-years away towards the constellation Canes Venatici. Also known as NGC 5055, this spiral galaxy spans almost 100,000 light-years. Spiral Galaxies like M63 are disks of stars, gas, and dust that have bright bulges in their centers made up primarily of older and dimmer stars. (NASA/Sophie Paulin/Jens Unger/Jakob Sahner)
Europa moon
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Does Jupiter’s moon Europa holds the possibility of life beyond Earth? Here is what NASA says. (NASA, JPL-Caltech, SETI Institute)

Jupiter is the second planet in our solar system with the most number of moons at 95! Among these, the smallest of Jupiter's four Galilean moons is Europa which is the sixth closest to the planet. Europa is said to be about 90 percent the size of Earth's Moon! If we were to replace our Moon with Europa, it would have a similar apparent size in the sky, but it would be significantly brighter, NASA explains. This is because Europa's surface is composed of water ice that reflects approximately 5.5 times more sunlight than our Moon does. Interestingly, Europa is a popular destination as it has been visited by several spacecraft and more missions are planned in the future.

Today's NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day even brings a stunning view of Europa by Galileo spacecraft. However, this image dates back to the late 1990s when the Galileo spacecraft explored the Jovian system, capturing several amazing images of Europa. The data revealed that beneath Europa's icy surface, there is evidence of a hidden and global ocean. NASA further explains the image that "Galileo's Europa image data has been remastered here, with improved calibrations to produce a colour image approximating what the human eye might see."

Jupiter's Europa: BEST place to explore life beyond Earth

The moon's long curved fractures suggest the presence of liquid water below the surface. Europa's elliptical orbit around Jupiter subjects it to tidal water which provides the necessary energy to maintain a liquid ocean. Although, the more interesting fact is that this energy source may also support life, even in the absence of sunlight, making Europa a promising candidate to look for life beyond our Earth. What types of organisms could thrive in a deep, lightless subsurface ocean? NASA suggests Earth's extreme shrimp serve as a fascinating example.

However, the Galileo spacecraft did not observe any plumes during its exploration in the 1990s. Recent findings from telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and analysis of Galileo spacecraft data have indicated the possibility of water plumes erupting around 100 miles above Europa's surface. Back in November 2019, an international research team, led by NASA, reported the detection of water vapour above Europa's surface.

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First Published Date: 20 May, 12:01 IST
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