Europa: Candidate for habitability

Continuing our series on the upcoming missions to the Jupiter system and talking about the Jovian moons, here is a brief overview of Europa and why it is the best suited candidate for habitability in our Solar System. 

The size of Europa is quite similar to that of our own moon but their interior structures are a little different. Europa, like Ganymede, is considered to be an icy moon. It consists of an ice shell followed by a layer of liquid water ocean. The final two layers consist of a rocky mantle and a metallic core. An interesting fact about its ocean is that it is believed to hold twice as much water as we find on the oceans on Earth! Even pictures of the surface of Europa show signs of water being present in its interior.

What makes Europa different from the other icy moons in our Solar System is its interaction between the ocean and rocky mantle layer. There is possibility of hydrothermal vents where the two layers meet which indicates a sign of chemistry that can sustain life. We see similar vents on Earth that are home to microbial lifeforms. It will be interesting to see the results we get from the Europa Clipper and JUICE missions in the next decade. In the meantime, drop your questions about Europa below and let us know what you are curious to find about the moon!

Image: Europa. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ DLR.

Shivangi Sharan is a postdoctoral research associate at Imperial College London, working on prioritising the research that will be carried out using the JUICE magnetometer data. Previously, she has worked on the interior of Mars and Jupiter using their magnetic observations. She is an active member of the IAGA Blog Team and can be contacted via e-mail here.


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