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A RIGOROUS analysis of the jagged terrain of Jupiter's moon Europa is helping to identify safe landing strips for future missions.
Europa is thought to have an ocean of water beneath its icy shell. The latest study is the first to use images from the Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003, to generate measurements of Europa's slopes. "This is the first quantitative sampling that gives hard numbers, real numbers that you can believe," says Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas.
Schenk used shadows, plus pictures taken from two different angles, combined into 3D images, to calculate the slopes of various regions of Europa. He examined four different kinds of terrain: ridged plains that make up the majority of the surface; impact craters; so-called "chaos" regions where icebergs appear to float in a frozen soup; and long smooth stripes called dilational bands.