Exploring the Potential for Life on Europa - Josh Habka

There is currently no evidence of life on Europa but the existence of Europa's sub-surface oceans and complex chemistry makes Europa a great candidate for life.
Exploring the Potential for Life on Europa - Josh Habka

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There is currently no evidence of life on Europa but the existence of Europa's sub-surface oceans and complex chemistry makes Europa a great candidate for life.

  1. Potential for Life on Europa:
    • Despite the absence of direct evidence, Europa's subsurface oceans and complex chemistry make it an intriguing candidate for harboring life.
    • Scientists have discovered evidence of a salty liquid water ocean beneath Europa's icy shell, sparking further investigation into its potential habitability.
  2. Temperature on Europa:
    • Europa's temperature can vary significantly, ranging from approximately 140 Kelvin (-210 degrees Fahrenheit) to about 50 Kelvin (-370 degrees Fahrenheit).
  3. Composition and Appearance of Europa:
    • Europa, slightly smaller than Earth's Moon, primarily consists of silicate rock with a water-ice crust and likely an iron-nickel core.
    • Observations from NASA's Galileo mission and ground-based telescopes confirm Europa's water ice surface and suggest the presence of an acidic sub-surface ocean.
  4. Radiation Exposure on Europa:
    • Europa receives substantial radiation from Jupiter, equivalent to about 5.4 Sv (540 rem) per day, significantly higher than the average human exposure on Earth.
  5. Chemical Composition and Ocean Dynamics:
    • Radiation from Jupiter splits water molecules in Europa's atmosphere, contributing to the presence of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
    • Europa's potential global ocean could offer valuable insights into its conditions and possibly support life, similar to Saturn's moon Enceladus.
  6. Exploration and Future Missions:
    • To gather further evidence and explore Europa's oceans, future missions may involve spacecraft sampling the ocean without landing on the surface.
    • Scientists are considering ways to send robots past Europa's icy shell to investigate its potentially life-sustaining oceans, building on past discoveries and magnetic connections observed between Europa and Jupiter.

Scientists looked closer at the Jovian moon Europa because they found evidence suggesting a salty ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell. Determining how well materials could be exchanged between Europa's icy shell, ocean, and Europa's rocky interior and whether there are hydrothermal vents or volcanoes on the Jovian moon Europa would help researchers further explore Europa's potential for containing life. Knowing Europa's ice shell thickness and ocean properties will help scientists determine if Europa is habitable for microbes (or, really, for anything more extensive). In Greenland, water flows down an underground pocket from a surface lake, but on the Jovian moon, scientists suspect that liquid water is forced to the surface by cracks in the icy shell from an underlying ocean.

What is The Temperature on Europa?

The Temperature on Europa can range from as high as approximately 140 Kelvin (about -210 degrees Fahrenheit) to as low as approximately 50 Kelvin (-370 degrees Fahrenheit).

What Does Europa Look Like?

Europa is slightly smaller than Earth's Moon and Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and has a water-ice crust and probably an iron–nickel core. Research suggests that Europa most likely has an acidic sub-surface ocean. Europa has a very thin atmosphere, composed primarily of oxygen.

Combining messages relayed to Earth by NASA's Galileo mission in the 1990s with observations by ground-based telescopes on Earth, experts are reasonably certain its blanket of ice is made from water ice, and beneath the ice is a salty, liquid ocean surrounding Jupiter's moon Europa 40 to 100 miles deep. From ground-based telescopes, scientists know Europa's surface is primarily made up of water ice. Scientists have found compelling evidence that underneath its ice crust is an ocean of liquid water or slushy ice. Scientists are nearly sure there is a salty ocean underneath the frozen surface, and it contains more water than all the Earth's oceans combined. If the vast ice sheets crisscrossing the Jovian moons are formed similarly to the ones found on Greenland, pockets of below-surface water could be everywhere in the body, helping circulate chemicals essential for life from the icy shell to the salty ocean that lies just below.

How Could Life Form In Europa's Oceans?

The radiation blasted to Europa from Jupiter may create fuel for life in an ocean below the surface. The radiation splits apart water molecules (H2O, made of oxygen and hydrogen) in Europa's extremely tenuous atmosphere.

How Much Radiation Does Europa Get?

Europa receives 5.4 Sv (540 rem) of radiation per day, which is approximately 1,800 times the average annual dose experienced by a human on Earth at sea level.

What Molecules Are On Europa?

The molecules presents on Europa include carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. These molecules are caused by the radiation from Jupiter which splits apart water and ice molecules.

If connected to the global ocean of water, like Saturn's moon Enceladus is thought to be, this would offer valuable clues about conditions within Europas's oceans and perhaps even evidence for life itself. Scientists may learn more about the global ocean of water through modeling, but getting hard evidence would require sending a mission back there. A passing spacecraft could even be able to sample the Europan ocean without landing on the surface since there is the possibility that the Europan ocean could leak into space. In the longer term, researchers are looking at ways to take a robot past the icy shells of Europa and the moon Enceladus from Saturn and into their potentially life-sustaining oceans.

Scientists got their best indication of whether there could be a Europan ocean two decades ago when this first NASA spacecraft detected magnetic connections between its beloved moon and Jupiter, which a salty, global sea could easily explain.

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