Red Freckles on Europa Suggest 'Lava Lamp' Action

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October 30, 2002

Reddish spots on the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa may indicate pockets of warmer ice rising from below. This upwelling could provide an elevator ride to the surface for material in an ocean beneath the ice, say scientists studying data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft.

A Galileo color image of the spots, which are called by the Latin term for freckles, "lenticulae," is being presented at a conference this week by Colorado researchers and is available online from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at

"Europa acts like a planetary lava lamp, carrying material from near the surface down to the ocean, and, if they exist, potentially transporting organisms up toward the surface," said Dr. Robert Pappalardo, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The Galileo spacecraft, orbiting Jupiter since 1995, has produced strong evidence that Europa has a deep ocean of melted saltwater underneath a surface layer of ice. Information about the mission and its discoveries is online at During the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, Oct. 27 through Oct. 30 in Denver, scientists are discussing interpretations of Europa data and proposals for future exploration of that world. A University of Colorado press release about presentations there by Pappalardo and colleagues is online at

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages Galileo for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. For more about Galileo, visit

Contacts: JPL/Guy Webster (818) 354-6278
University of Colorado/Jim Scott (303) 492-3114


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