Cracked cue ball


  • Michael Carlowicz


The latest images sent by the Galileo spacecraft reveal that the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa may have contained a layer of “warm ice” or even liquid water. In fact, planetologists are wondering if perhaps it still does.

Photos taken earlier this summer show Europa to have a crust of smooth white and brown-tinted ice scarred by long, jagged cracks; some scientists have said the moon looks like a cracked cue ball. “The scale of fracture patterns—extending a distance equivalent to the width of the western United States—dwarf the San Andreas fault in length and width,” said Ronald Greeley, a geologist from Arizona State University and a member of the Galileo imaging team. The cracks are believed to have been caused by the stress of tidal forces created by Jupiter's gravity. Warmth generated by tidal heating also may have been sufficient to soften or liquefy some of the ice.