Recent laboratory experiments re-created the environment found on Europa and revealed that the icy moon shines, even on its nightside.
The effect is more than just visually pleasing.
As an icy, ocean-filled satellite, Europa orbits Jupiter, and it keeps receiving vast waves of radiation.
Jupiter zaps the moon’s surface perpetually with electrons and other particles, infusing it with waves upon waves of high-energy radiation.
However, as these particles hit the moon’s surface, they may have a peculiar side effect – They make Europa glow in the dark!
New data from scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs from South California elaborates for the first time about the look of the satellite’s surface.
Various salty compounds have different reactions to the incoming radiation, and they glimmer in particular ways, accordingly.
To a regular observer, the glow is sometimes partly green, sometimes somewhat blue or white and its brightness varies, according to the type of material it is.
Scientists used spectrometers to separate the emitted light into individual wavelengths and merge the distinct “signatures,” or spectra, to particular ice compositions.
Most analyses with spectrometers on moons like Europa are done with reflected sunlight on the moon’s dayside, but the new results show what Europa would look like in full darkness.
Murthy Gudipati, the lead author of the newly published study, stated:
“We were able to predict that this nightside ice glow could provide additional information on Europa’s surface composition. How that composition varies could give us clues about whether Europa harbors conditions suitable for life.”
The explanation behind that is that Europa has a vast, global interior ocean that might percolate to the surface thanks to the moon’s deep outer crust of ice.
By carefully studying the surface, scientists can discover more about what is hidden beneath it.