color view of two small moons and jupiter in black space
Published: January 9, 2019

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 370,000 miles (600,000 kilometers) 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.

Data from the magnetometer carried by the Galileo spacecraft indicate the presence of conducting fluid, most likely salty water, inside both worlds.