Europa stands out in the Jovian system, offering a unique combination of nutrients, water, and energy - ingredients vital for life.
Europa, a moon of Jupiter smaller than our own, emerges as a promising frontier in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.
Europa stands out in the Jovian system, offering a unique combination of nutrients, water, and energy – ingredients vital for life. This moon, believed to comprise four layers – an icy shell, a saltwater ocean, a rocky mantle, and a metallic core – could present a hospitable environment for extraterrestrial life.
A Subterranean Ocean’s Potential for Life
The ocean of Europa, like Earth’s, connects with its rocky bottom, enabling beneficial rock-water interactions that may nurture life. Scientists speculate that Europa’s seafloor may hide volcanoes that could further enrich this potential biosphere with energy and nutrients.
Kevin Trinh, Carver Bierson, and Joe O’Rourke, scientists from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, used computer code developed by Trinh to explore the implications of Europa’s low-temperature formation. Their revelations were recently published in Science Advances.
Origin of Europa’s Ocean: The Role of Hydrated Rocks
Europa’s ocean might trace its origin back to a metamorphic process. While other scientists have suggested this, Trinh and his team demonstrate that if hydrated rocks helped form Europa, enough heat would have been produced to release water directly, creating the ocean and ice shell.
Kevin Trinh emphasizes the importance of understanding Europa’s ocean origins, stating that the moon’s potential for life hinges on the chemical composition and physical conditions during the ocean’s creation.
Hydrothermal Activity: A Crucial Indicator of Habitability
Contrary to popular belief, this ASU study suggests that Europa’s metallic core formation could have begun billions of years after the moon’s formation if it occurred at all. Carver Bierson highlights the novelty of this work, explaining that it portrays Europa as a world with an evolving interior, offering new paths for future research.
Europa’s Mysterious Core and Habitability
The existence of a metallic core in Europa could affect its internal heat and potential seafloor volcanism, key factors for habitability. Trinh’s innovative code helps calculate how heat disperses within a moon, challenging conventional assumptions about Europa’s formation.
However, maintaining these processes requires a heated interior, and Europa’s small size (just 1% of Earth’s mass) might limit its capacity for heat production, which could put a damper on its potential habitability.
Europa’s Cool Seafloor and Limited Volcanism
In a nutshell, Europa’s seafloor could be cold and hydrated, with scarce, if any, seafloor volcanism. The study implies limited hydrothermal activity, potentially diminishing Europa’s chances for life. Joseph O’Rourke emphasizes that Europa is a unique world, abundant in mysteries to be decoded.
The Upcoming Europa Clipper Mission
Scheduled for launch in October 2024, NASA’s Europa Clipper will reach Europa by April 2030. Trinh, Bierson, and O’Rourke’s work provides valuable insights to help interpret the incoming data from this mission, which aims to evaluate Europa’s potential to sustain life.