Could There be Life on Europa?

This is a picture of Europa, one of Jupiter’s Galilean moons. Europa is considered one of the most likely places where life in our universe that isn’t on Earth might exist, and you can read more about that here!

Europa is one of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, meaning it’s one of the four largest moons that orbit Jupiter. What makes it particularly special is that it is considered one of the most likely places in our solar system (outside of Earth) that might contain life. Now, at a glance, it seems like that shouldn’t be possible. People often learn about how Earth is in a “sweet spot,” not being too close to the sun that life couldn’t exist due to the heat, or being too far away that all life would freeze away and die. Now, while things like atmosphere and other factors also contribute to whether a plant can sustain life, not just distance from the sun, it does remain true that Europa, even at it’s closest distance to the sun, is still well past the solar frost line, which makes one assume life wouldn’t be possible. Yet in reality, it being so far away is part of the reason there could be life present. NASA describes the three things needed for life as water, chemistry, and energy. Water appears to be plentiful on Europa, with the surface being completely frozen, and underneath the frozen crust, astronomers believe there is a huge ocean, kept warm by the moving core and colossal tidal shifts due to the mass of Jupiter. The “chemistry” means there needs to be a plentiful supply of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and a few other elements that scientists believe reside on Europa. The tricky part is the energy. On Earth, the “energy” comes from the sun, but since Europa is so far away from the sun, it can’t rely just on that. Scientists theorize that much of the energy that could create life on Europa is radioactive energy from Jupiter. Now, at a glance even this is confusing, as Jupiter give off so much radioactive energy that it should kill any life that would form on Europa’s surface. Yet as mentioned earlier, the surface of Europa is frozen, and scientists believe that if life exists, it exists in the ocean that is underneath the ice cover. It’s impossible to know if life actually exists on Europa until we get there, but there is enough evidence to show it could be there, and that by itself, is still incredibly exciting.

Published by phildowd

I'm a big fan of Pluto!

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