Bodies Aligned

Photojournal: PIA02861

December 16, 2004

One moment in an ancient, orbital dance is caught in this color picture
taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 7, 2000, just as two of
Jupiter's four major moons, Europa and Callisto, were nearly perfectly
aligned with each other and the center of the planet.


The distances are deceiving. Europa, seen against Jupiter, is 600,000
kilometers (370,000 miles) above the planet's cloud tops. Callisto, at
lower left, is nearly three times that distance from the cloud tops.
Europa is a bit smaller than Earth's Moon and has one of the brightest
surfaces in the solar system. Callisto is 50 percent bigger -- roughly the
size of Saturn's largest satellite, Titan -- and three times darker than
Europa. Its brightness had to be enhanced in this picture, relative
Europa's and Jupiter's, in order for Callisto to be seen in this image.


Europa and Callisto have had very different geologic histories but share
some surprising similarities, such as surfaces rich in ice. Callisto has
apparently not undergone major internal compositional stratification, but
Europa's interior has differentiated into a rocky core and an outer layer
of nearly pure ice. Callisto's ancient surface is completely covered by
large impact craters: The brightest features seen on Callisto in this
image were discovered by the Voyager spacecraft in 1979 to be bright
craters, like those on our Moon. In contrast, Europa's young surface is
covered by a wild tapestry of ridges, chaotic terrain and only a handful
of large craters.


Recent data from the magnetometer carried by the Galileo spacecraft, which
has been in orbit around Jupiter since 1995, indicate the presence of
conducting fluid, most likely salty water, inside both Callisto and
Europa.


Scientists are eager to discover whether the surface of Saturn's Titan
resembles that of Callisto or Europa, or whether it is entirely different,
when Cassini finally reaches its destination in 2004.


Cassini is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and
the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini
mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.


Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


For higher resolution, click here.

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