Jupiter’s moon Europa has two faces – one shines brightly and the other is swathed in darkness, which is the lunar orb’s far side.
However, new data shows the ocean beneath the moon’s icy surface on the far side may actually glowing a visible white light with green or blue tints.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) says the effect is a result of the icy ocean being hit with constant radiation from Jupiter.
The team blasted a mix of ice and salts, which have been observed on Europa’s surface, with Jupiter-like radiation, revealing the moon ‘glows in the dark.’
JPL's Murthy Gudipati, lead author of the study, said: ‘If Europa weren't under this radiation, it would look the way our moon looks to us -dark on the shadowed side.’
‘But because it's bombarded by the radiation from Jupiter, it glows in the dark.’
Gudipati and his team used a spectrometer to separate the light into wavelengths and connect the distinct ‘signatures’ to different compositions of ice.
A majority of observations have been taken using reflected sunlight on the moon’s day side, but these new results illuminate what Europa’s far side would look like in the dark.
‘We were able to predict that this nightside ice glow could provide additional information on Europa's surface composition,’ said Gudipati.
‘How that composition varies could give us clues about whether Europa harbors conditions suitable for life.’
Europe is home to a massive ocean and by studying the surface, experts hope to uncover if life is hiding in the vast body of water.
For this study, the team combined ice with a variety of different salts that have been observed on Europa, such as magnesium sulfate and sodium chloride, and blasted the mixtures with Jupiter-like radiation – all of which produced a glowing effect.
JPL's Bryana Henderson, who co-authored the research, said: ‘When we tried new ice compositions, the glow looked different. And we all just stared at it for a while and then said, 'This is new, right? This is definitely a different glow?' So we pointed a spectrometer at it, and each type of ice had a different spectrum.’
The mockup of Europa’s surface was designed in JPL’s Ice Chamber for Europa's High-Energy Electron and Radiation Environment Testing (ICE-HEART).
And although the team had hoped to see a glow, they were surprised that the type of glow varied in different combinations, which the researches call ‘serendipity.’
Fred Bateman, co-author of the paper, said: ‘Seeing the sodium chloride brine with a significantly lower level of glow was the 'aha' moment that changed the course of the research.’
NASA is set to launch its Europa Clipper mission in the mid-2020s that will gather data of the moon’s surface during a number of flybys while orbiting Jupiter.
Although this mission is not set to search for life, it will probe Europa to see if it is capable of hosting life.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.