A Brush with Beauty

Europa has long been awed by enthusiasts and a puzzle to scientists. Residing in an environment where the sun’s rays are only a warm glow, it draws strength from Jupiter—a planet that it rapidly circles in three short days. Tidal forces tug at the moon as it orbits the gas giant elliptically, stretching and compressing its icy surface to the planet’s whims. Fractures dance along the smoothest of surfaces you’ll ever see, the thicks and thins overlapping to form their own intricate design. Reddish gunk of unknown beginnings oozes out of the fractures, staining the once pristine ice. I’d say these are the wounds of a warrior, proudly displayed for the universe to admire.

And admiration is precisely what I feel when I look at Europa—the tiny, delicate moon practically in our backyard, yet mysteriously unattainable. Teensy though it is, and I kid you not, it harbors salty oceans double the amount here on Earth. Oceans, never allowed to flow freely on the surface as they do on so many other planets. Perhaps a volcano deep inside is flushing out nutrients necessary for life to begin. Perhaps it has already begun, which is why Europa never allows prying eyes to peep through its thick ice. The moon protects its reign fiercely yet gently—strength and fragility morphed into one. But only a fool would mistake the fragility for weakness. Europa permits Jupiter’s tidal energy to keep it warm. Period. While Jupiter snuggles other moons under its magnetosphere to protect them from solar flares, Europa sets up its own shield. Churned by its core and fueled by the salty oceans hidden under the ice, Europa’s magnetic field blasts out into space, supremely distorting Jupiter’s intense field—allowing none of its dominance to seep through. It is a world so vulnerable yet with enough forbiddance that even the billion dollar spacecrafts maintain their distance by quietly gliding by, making sure to leave it uninterrupted.

It is to me a locked mystery of exquisiteness, the key to which is tantalizingly out of my reach.

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