Vastavam web: Astronomers have created the first global thermal map of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa by using images taken with the ALMA observatory in Chile.
The new series of four images of Europa have a resolution of about 200 kilometers, sufficient to study the relationship between surface thermal variations and the moon’s major geologic features.
The research, published in the Astronomical Journal, compared the new observations of Europa by Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to a thermal model based on observations from the Galileo spacecraft. The new data also revealed an enigmatic cold spot on Europa’s northern hemisphere.
“These ALMA images are really interesting because they provide the first global map of Europa’s thermal emission,” said Samantha Trumbo, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology in the US. “Since Europa is an ocean world with potential geologic activity, its surface temperatures are of great interest because they may constrain the locations and extents of any such activity,” Trumbo said.
Europa also has a comparatively young surface, only about 20 to 180 million years old, indicating that there are as-yet-unidentified thermal or geologic processes at work. Unlike optical telescopes, which can only detect sunlight reflected by planetary bodies, radio and millimeter-wave telescopes like ALMA can detect the thermal “glow” naturally emitted by even relatively cold object in our Solar System, including comets, asteroids, and moons. At its warmest, Europa’s surface temperature never rises above minus 160 degrees Celsius, researchers said.