This artist's concept, a cutaway view of Jupiter's moon Callisto, is based on recent data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft which indicates a salty ocean may lie beneath Callisto's icy crust.
These findings come as a surprise, since scientists previously believed that Callisto was relatively inactive. If Callisto has an ocean, that would make it more like another Jovian moon, Europa, which has yielded numerous hints of a subsurface ocean. Despite the tantalizing suggestion that there is an ocean layer on Callisto, the possibility that there is life in the ocean remains remote.
Callisto's cratered surface lies at the top of an ice layer, (depicted here as a whitish band), which is estimated to be about 200 kilometers (124 miles) thick. Immediately beneath the ice, the thinner blue band represents the possible ocean, whose depth must exceed 10 kilometers (6 miles), according to scientists studying data from Galileo's magnetometer. The mottled interior is composed of rock and ice.
Galileo's magnetometer, which studies magnetic fields around Jupiter and its moons, revealed that Callisto's magnetic field is variable. This may be caused by varying electrical currents flowing near Callisto's surface, in response to changes in the background magnetic field as Jupiter rotates. By studying the data, scientists have determined that the most likely place for the currents to flow would be a layer of melted ice with a high salt content.
These findings were based on information gathered during Galileo's flybys of Callisto in November 1996, and June and September of 1997. JPL manages the Galileo mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. This artist's concept and other images and data received from Galileo are posted on the World Wide Web on the Galileo mission home page at http://galileo.jpl.nasa.gov . Background information and educational context for the images can be found at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo/sepo Image Credit: NASA/JPL