Jupiter’s Moon Europa | 23 Apr 2022

For Prelims: Jupiter and its Moons, NASA

For Mains: Space Technology, Implications of Recent findings related to Jupiter's moon Europa

Why in News?

A team of researchers from Stanford University have found the possibility of water on one of Jupiter’s moons Europa, a prime candidate for life in the solar system.

What is Europa?

  • Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon and its diameter is about one-quarter that of the Earth.
  • Even though Europa has a very thin oxygen atmosphere, it is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to find present-day environments that are suitable for life beyond the Earth.
  • It is also believed that underneath Europa’s icy surface the amount of water is twice that on Earth.
  • Scientists believe Europa’s ice shell is 15-25 km thick and is floating on an ocean, which is estimated to be between 60-150 km deep.
  • Interestingly, while its diameter is less than the Earth’s, Europa probably contains twice the amount of the water in all of the Earth’s oceans.
  • NASA is expected to launch its Europa Clipper in 2024.
    • The module will orbit Jupiter and conduct multiple close flybys to Europa to gather data on the moon’s atmosphere, surface and its interior.

What are the Findings?

  • Europa’s surface is mostly solid water ice and contains water beneath it.
  • The double ridges – the formations which are most common on Europa’s surface and are like those seen on Earth’s Greenland ice sheet.
  • Double Ridges of the moon are formed over shallow pockets of water.

What are the Implications of the recent findings?

  • The double ridges of Europa increase the potential habitability of the moon.
  • The ice shell, which is potentially miles thick, has been a difficult prospect for scientists to sample. But according to the new evidence gathered by the Stanford team, the ice shell is believed to be less of a barrier and more of a dynamic system.
    • This means that the ice shell does not behave like an inert block of ice, but rather undergoes a variety of geological and hydrological processes.
    • There is a possibility that life has a shot if there are pockets of water in the shell.
  • If the mechanism seen in Greenland is how these things happen on Europa, it suggests there’s water everywhere.

What is Jupiter?

  • Fifth in line from the Sun, Jupiter is, by far, the largest planet in the solar system – more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined.
    • Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are called Jovian or Gas Giant Planets. These have thick atmosphere, mostly of helium and hydrogen.
  • Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot is a giant storm bigger than Earth that has raged for hundreds of years.
  • Jupiter rotates once about every 10 hours (a Jovian day), but takes about 12 Earth years to complete one orbit of the Sun (a Jovian year).
  • Jupiter has more than 75 moons.
    • The planet Jupiter's four largest moons are called the Galilean satellites after Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who first observed them in 1610.
    • These large moons, named Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, are each distinctive world.
  • In 1979, the Voyager mission discovered Jupiter’s faint ring system.
  • Nine spacecraft have visited Jupiter. Seven flew by and two have orbited the gas giant. Juno, the most recent, arrived at Jupiter in 2016.

Source: IE