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NASA Reveals Its Most Amazing View of Jupiter’s Moon Europa

Image: Europa
Jupiter's icy moon Europa looms large in this newly reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute

A reprocessed picture shows off the amazing colors of Europa, a mysterious ice-covered moon of Jupiter, as they have never been seen before.

The original observations were collected by the Galileo spacecraft, which explored Jupiter and its moons from orbit in the 1990s. NASA officials reprocessed Galileo's data using modern imaging techniques that improved on an enhanced-color view of Europa the agency created in 2001.

The new photo, released on Nov. 21, shows the largest proportion of Europa's surface at the highest image resolution, NASA said.

Jupiter’s Frozen Ocean Moon Could Hide Life 1:18

NASA released the picture as the agency pushes forward with plans to explore Europa in the coming decades, based on the theory that there is water lurking underneath the moon's icy shell. That water could host life under the right conditions, scientists say. [Infographic: Europa Explained]

"The story of life on Earth may have begun in our oceans, and that's because — of course — if we've learned anything about life on Earth, it's that where you find the liquid water, you generally find life," Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a new video about Europa.

Hand said Europa is a "game-changer" for life-seeking missions because the moon's main source of energy is from Jupiter, not the sun. As the moon orbits the massive gas giant, the immense gravity from Jupiter causes Europa to flex. The friction from such flexing could make it possible for moons and planets to host liquid water even if they are far from a star's traditional habitable zone.

"Hidden beneath Europa's icy surface is perhaps the most promising place in our solar system beyond Earth to look for present-day environments that are suitable for life," NASA said in a statement.

Among NASA's proposed missions to Jupiter's icy moon is the Europa Clipper, a mission pegged to cost about $2 billion. It would orbit Jupiter and get more information about Europa's ocean in a series of flybys. If funded, the mission would launch sometime around 2025.

— Elizabeth Howell, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter. Follow Space.com on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.