Tech UPTechnologyEuropa: Jupiter's moon that could harbor life

Europa: Jupiter's moon that could harbor life

If I ask you to looklife outside the earthWhere would you start

Perhaps your first impulse is to look for a star similar to our Sun, with a terrestrial planet orbiting in the habitable zone, where water can remain in a liquid state. Not too cold, not too hot.

But what if I told you that you don’t have to leave the solar system to find extraterrestrial life? Today we are going to talk about one of the best candidates to host extraterrestrial life: this is Europe.

Europa is one of the 79 moons of Jupiter, the oldest and most massive planet in the Solar System.Europa is a ball of ice that orbits the gas giant Jupiter800 million kilometers from the Sun, and about 650 million kilometers from Earth.

It was discovered by Galileo in the year 1610, today we believe that, like our planet, it has an iron core, a rocky mantle and an ocean of salt water. It has a diameter of about three thousand kilometers, an orbit equivalent to 3 and a half days of the Earth, and a mass of approximately 65% of our Moon.

At such a great distance from the Sun, scientists would not normally expect to find life, becauseEurope is outside the habitable zone, where water remains in a liquid state naturally. Instead, Europe is in a place where it is too cold for this to happen. At least, on its surface.

Europa is a great frozen ball that hides a secret: an ocean of liquid water. Scientists estimate that under the icy mantle between 20 and 50 meters thickthere is an ocean of warm water, deeper than Earth’s oceans.

We have not yet been able to send instruments to drill into Europa and find this ocean. So how do we know it’s there?

Thanks to images provided by missions like the Juno space probe, we know thatthe surface of Europe is very similar to the Arctic landscape: it presents fringes, fractures in the ice, caused by the water, which rises to its surface and, once there, freezes again, leaving these characteristic grooves. If we were to fly over the Arctic, which is a continent that floats on a liquid ocean, we would find the same patterns in the ice.

And, of course, on Earth there are liquid oceans, and therefore life, because we are in the habitable zone of our star, the Sun. But Europa is too far away,How is it possible that there is an immense liquid ocean under the ice?

The answer lies in the gas giant that guards it: Jupiter. Jupiter’s enormous gravity creates new forces that shape Europa, and keep it warm; prevent it from being completely frozen. At the same time,it causes tides, similar to those that the Moon causes on Earth.

In recent years, scientists have also observed the presence of geysers in Europe, that is, water expelled under pressure into space. This is proof of the internal activity of Europe. Furthermore, in November 2019 an international research team led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center detected water vapor for the first time on the surface of Europa.

Scientists had already calculated that theliquid water sometimes burst onto the surface of Europa through geysers, but it is the first time that this water has been detected directly.

Well, if we have liquid water, internal heat and activity,only the chemical elements are missing for Europe to be the home of extraterrestrial lifeWe just haven’t found her yet.

Water is the primitive home of life. All we know about life is that almost whenever there is water, we find it, (and sometimes even in the absence of it). Extremophiles are organisms that can survive in the most extreme conditions on Earth, under extreme heat or cold.

But water is the primitive soup of life, and with the evidence we have there is no reason to believe that Europa cannot be a true nursery for extraterrestrial organisms. Without going any further, on Earth, one of the largest explosions of life in its history occurred just after the periodSnowball earth, when the Earth was practically frozen.

About 540 million years ago, in the Earth’s oceans, the explosion of life known asCambrian explosion. The fossil record reveals that at this time in the history of our planet a great variety of invertebrate organisms emerged, such as sponges or trilobites, and also the first arthropods, the ancestors of insects; even some organisms that could be the first antecedents of our spine, the picaias.

Who tells us that in Europe there cannot be a rich ecosystem of similar extraterrestrial life under the ice? We cannot know. Perhaps the conditions for life are not ideal enough in Europe. Or we may find life in the form of simple microorganisms.

In any case, we won’t know for sure until we check it out.Between 2023 and 2025, NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will be launched, to determine if Europe has the necessary ingredients to support life as we know it.

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