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Published on June 28th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie

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Jupiter’s Moon Europa: An Ocean Of Life?

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Jupiter’s Moon Europa

In our brief period of Space exploration, little more than five decades, we still have not found any life apart from our blue planet. Although we have only set foot on one other world, the Moon – there are many places that hold great potential. Chef amongst these is Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

One of the most pervading questions of our time – ‘is there life on other worlds besides Earth?‘ still has not being answered. Will Jupiter’s moon Europa provide the answer to this burning question.

A glimmering world of ice and strange brown veins, it is a world like no other in the Solar System.

Close Up Of Jupiter's Moon Europa In False Colour

Jupiter’s moon Europa is roughly 671,000 km (417,000 miles) from the gas giant, Jupiter, and takes just over three and a half days to complete an orbit around the planet. At 3,100 kilometres (1,900 miles), Europa is smaller than our own Moon and is the smallest of Jupiter’s giant moons.

The Stranger Of The Solar System

One of the strangest of all the satellites in the Solar System, Europa is radically different in appearance. It’s off-white surface is streaked with delicate lattices of brown. Jupiter’s moon Europa is a frozen world, it’s entire surface is covered in ice-water.

The brown marks are where fractures occur in the surface. The colour difference is caused by rich minerals present in the water below.

Jupiter's Moon Europa's Two Types Of Ice Crust (Thin Or Thick)

One of the more unusual aspects of Europa’s surface is its lack of impact craters. Virtually all of the other satellites in the Solar System are pock-marked, scarred by large objects, such as asteroids, crashing into their surface. Jupiter’s moon Europa is very different there are only a few impact sites on its surface. This indicates two things. Its surface is very young and it is constantly changing.

Water World

Deep below Europa’s ice-encrusted surface resides a massive ocean of water encompassing the entire moon. Liquid water is also the reason why the moon is so crater-free. When impacts occurred water from below would fill the crater, freezing quickly once it reached Jupiter’s moon Europa’s freezing surface with its average temperature of minus 148 degrees Celsius (-234 Fahrenheit).

Jupiter's Moon Europa's Interior With Its Iron Core, Rocky Mantle, Ocean Water, Ice Crust

Jupiter’s moon Europa’s liquid ocean does pose problems and you may wonder how can liquid water exist so far away from the Sun. The answer, like with Lo’s volcanic activity, resides with Jupiter’s gravitational pull heating the interior. Check out Yellow Magpie’s Lo: Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon for more insight.

Is There Life On Jupiter’s Moon Europa?

Europa’s liquid ocean is at least several kilometres deep although it may be as great as 100 kilometres (60 miles). This gives rise to the most prudent question of all. Can it support life? On Earth we have discovered that light is not needed for life and that plants and animals can thrive around volcanic vents on the bottom of the ocean. These vents spew out nutrients that enable ecosystems to flourish.

The ocean itself is thought to be salty in composition. Deposits of salt on the frozen surface have been identified by scientists. This is perhaps one of the most critical components, besides water, for creating life as life on Earth seems to require salt.

Europa may be no different. The fact that it has liquid water is an excellent indication that life may be there. The difficulties to finding the answer to this burning question are great. Jupiter’s moon Europa is millions of kilometres from the Earth. What’s more, in order to get to the ocean we have to get through an estimated ten to 30 kilometres of solid ice.

Jupiter's Moon Europa's Moving Ice Crust

Finding The Answer To The Question

A submersible robot with artificial intelligence (AI) could be employed to scan for life but we are centuries away from developing AI that could come even close to human intelligence. Therefore, there could be a grave danger that the probe might not recognise a different type of life-form. The thick layer of ice would make communicating with the submersible while performing it tasks very difficult, if not impossible.

The best bet would lie with sending people to Jupiter’s Moon Europa with the necessary technology to see for ourselves. Our robotics just simply cannot compete with human intelligence and it will remain that way for quite a considerable period of time.

One thing is clear it seems  inevitable that one day we will know if Europa supports life or not. Until that day arrives we only have our imagination.

Highly Recommended Reading

Check out Yellow Magpie’s Jupiter: The Local Gas Giant Of The Solar System for more insight into the largest planet in the Solar System and The Moons Of Jupiter: The Solar System Within The Solar System to examine Jupiter’s moons in more detail.

You may also wish to take a gander at The Solar System And Beyond: A Guide To The Cosmos.

Cosmos is a highly recommended book. It contains large, full-page pictures of the asteroids and writing on the subject by the highly competent author, Giles Sparrow.

Amazon.co.uk
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Cosmos from here.

Amazon.ca
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain: Cosmos here.

Amazon.de
For Germany: Cosmos.

Amazon.fr
For France: Cosmos.


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