10 Out-Of-This-World Facts About Jupiter’s Moon Europa

Subsurface Ocean

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On Europa, the incredible radiation as well as the tidal forces of Jupiter’s gravity aid in heating the moon’s interior. This heating melts the ice and is believed to have produced an incredible subsurface salty ocean. This ocean theory stems from the belief that the existence of “floating” continent-sized ice sheets could not happen without some kind of viscous material below it. Therefore, the ocean acts as lubrication for the movement and constant crashing at glacier speeds of the massive surface ice layers.

Astonishingly, some scientists estimate that the total volume of water in Europa’s subsurface oceans to be around three quadrillion cubic kilometers (720 trillion mi3). That’s more than twice the volume of Earth’s oceans. On average, the subsurface Europa oceans are estimated to be around 100 kilometers (60 mi) deep!

Ice Geysers

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In 2018, NASA scientists announced the presence of ice geysers on Europa’s surface. This discovery came after analyses of images taken of the surface in 1997 by the Galileo spacecraft, which showed plumes of vented water vapor above Europa’s surface. The geysers gush warmer water from the subsurface ocean below.

Europa is not the only moon in our solar system where ice geysers exist. One of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, has also been shown to have large-scale ice geysers. When Galileo photographed Europa’s ice geysers, it accidentally caught glimpse of them as it passed 200 kilometers (124 mi) above the surface and through a plume.

You Wouldn’t Last Long

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Like the other Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter, Europa receives an intense dose of radiation from its parent planet. Solar radiation combined with energetic particles from Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field deliver a deadly dose of radiation to the moon’s surface of about 5,400 millisieverts (mSv) per day.

To give some comparison, an ordinary medical CT scan produces only six to 20 millisieverts. Suffice to say, you wouldn’t want to be on the surface of Europa without some serious protection.

Focus For Life

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In the search for life in our solar system, Europa is among the most exciting places. The presence of vast water oceans beneath Europa’s frozen surface has scientists believing in the possibility of life below. It is thought that at the bottom of Europa’s icy depths, warm geothermal vents exist, from which warm water bubbles upward. These thermal vents would be a possible location for life to evolve, just like how many odd types of deep sea creatures reside at the bottom of Earth’s oceans.

It is thought that Europa produces ten times more oxygen than hydrogen in its oceans, which is similar to Earth. Therefore, chemical reactions from hydrothermal vents and the abundance of oxygen in the water makes Europa one of the top candidates for finding life in our solar system!

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