An expert in processing spacecraft images of the planets, Cynthia Phillips is particularly interested in the search for active geological processes on such worlds as Mars, Europa, Io, and Enceladus. Regions of current, ongoing geological activity are particularly germane from an astrobiological perspective because they could represent locations where liquid water could be present today. Such active regions are also places where material from underneath could be brought up to the surface, where it’s much easier for scientists to detect using either remote sensing techniques or landed spacecraft.
Cynthia has compared the images taken of Jupiter’s moons Europa and Io by the Galileo and Voyager spacecraft to search for any changes that may have occurred on their surfaces. In the case of Europa, which is believed to have a mammoth, liquid ocean beneath its icy surface, active regions would pinpoint locations where liquid water is located close to the crust. Such areas would be important targets for a future Europa spacecraft mission, and perhaps one day could be landing sites. While she has not yet found any such active regions on Europa, Cynthia continues to search the Galileo dataset. She has also used her detection techniques to document ongoing volcanic activity on Jupiter’s pizza-like moon, Io.
- SETI Institute