NASA scientists map radiation on Europa's surface

One of the most promising locations for the possibility of life outside of Earth in our own solar system is an icy moon of Jupiter called Europa. NASA sent a Galileo mission to check out the moon in the 1990s and that mission provided evidence that under the icy surface Europa has a liquid ocean. The watery depths inside the planet is where scientists think life could be discovered.

NASA scientists have now comprehensibly mapped the radiation pummeling Europa's surface to help them figure out where to look for the best chance of finding life. Europa's surface is constantly bombarded with intense radiation from Jupiter. That radiation destroys or alters material transported to the surface of the moon making it more difficult for scientists to determine if what is seen on the surface represents what is found under the surface.

In preparation for a future mission to explore Europa, the scientists need to know where the best locations for searching the icy moon might be. The team used data from the Galileo flyby of Europa from 20 years ago and electron measurements from the Voyager 1 spacecraft to look at electronics hitting the surface of Europa. What the scientists found was that the radiation dose varies by location.

The most radiation is concentrated in zones around the equator of the moon. Radiation lessens the closer to the poles of Europa you get. The areas of highest radiation doses appear as oval-shaped regions that are connected at the narrow ends covering more than half the moon.

Thanks to the data the scientists know which regions are the least likely to have material altered by Jupiter's radiation. That information is seen as critical to the Europa Clipper spacecraft that NASA will launch as early as 2022. That spacecraft will make about 45 close flybys with lots of instruments aboard. The goal of all the instruments on the spacecraft is to investigate the composition of the moon, its ocean, and any material ejected into space.