A photograph of Ganymede and Europa taken by The Very Large Telescope in Chile. Image Credit: Very Large Telescope/University of Leicester.

Clearest Images of Ganymede and Europa Taken by Telescope in Chile

Using the Very Large Telescope in Chile, scientists took the clearest-ever images of Jupiter's moons Ganymede and Europa.


Some places in the solar system are great places to search for life. Mars is perhaps the highest-ranked on the list. There are numerous landers, rovers, and spacecraft studying the red planet. But Mars is by no means the only place where alien life may have existed or still exists. Likewise, some moons in our solar system are also great places where we can search for alien life. One of the more promising candidates is a moon of Jupiter called Europa. Covered by a massive layer of ice several kilometers deep, beneath it lies a vast ocean. This ocean is likely a sweet spot for life, according to astronomers. Therefore, studying these moons is of critical importance to humankind. Various spacecraft have taken great photographs of the moons. Juno, for example, recently flew past Europa and took some crisp close-up images of the surface.

A view of Enceladus and Europa

However, we can also photograph these moons from Earth. Detailed images taken by an Earth-based telescope reveal the cocktail of chemicals that make up two of Jupiter’s largest moons’ frozen surfaces. The University of Leicester School of Physics and Astronomy has released two new images of Europa and Ganymede. These moons are expected to be visited by exciting new missions to the Jovian system in the future.


The images are among the sharpest ever acquired from a ground-based observatory and provide new insight into Jupiter’s moons’ chemical composition – including the long rifts that cut across Europa’s surface, revealing new geological features. In the Galilean moons family, Ganymede and Europa are two of the four largest moons orbiting Jupiter. Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, while Europa is quite similar in size to our own Moon. Using Chile’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), the Leicester team, led by Ph.D. student Oliver King, observed and mapped the surfaces of these two distant moons.

Analyzing the spectrum

As a result, a reflectance spectrum was produced for Europa and Ganymede by measuring the amount of sunlight reflected from their surfaces at different infrared wavelengths. Using a computer model, these reflectance spectra are compared to laboratory measurements of the spectra of different substances. Europa’s crust is mostly made up of frozen water ice with non-ice materials contaminating its surface. According to images and spectra published in the Planetary Science Journal. The observations of Ganymede, published in JGR: Planets, indicate that the surface consists mostly of dark gray material. This composition is unknown, but the image also shows young areas of water ice.

Furthermore, an impact event has exposed Ganymede’s crust’s fresh, clean ice beneath its icy polar caps (blue in the images). In addition, scientists mapped the distribution of salts on Ganymede, including some that may come from within Ganymede itself. The size variation of the grains of ice across the surface. Located in northern Chile, the Very Large Telescope has mirrors over 8 meters across, making it one of the world’s most powerful telescopes.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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