Jupiter’s moon can have water very close to the surface

A new study conducted by scientists at a private research institute in Palo Alto, California, USA, and published in the Journal nature communicationindicates that Jupiter’s moon Europa has water closer to the surface than previously thought.

Jupiter’s moon Europa contains a vast ocean of liquid water beneath its surface. Scientists are betting that this water could be much shallower than previously thought. Image: OceanicWanderer/

Mounds criss-crossing Jupiter’s moon’s icy surface suggest shallow pockets of water lie beneath, raising hope in the search for extraterrestrial life, researchers say.

Research in Greenland has shown the possibility

Europa has long been considered a hotspot in our solar system for the search for life due to its vast ocean of liquid water – a key ingredient for life. According to previous studies, this water is between 25 and 30 km below the ice cover of the moon.

But the water could be closer to the surface, according to Stanford University scientists. The discovery came partly by accident, when geophysicists studying an ice cap in Greenland viewed a presentation on the moon Europa and spotted a feature they recognized.

“We were working on something completely different related to climate change and its effects on Greenland’s surface when we saw these little double ridges,” said lead author Dustin Schroeder, a professor of geophysics at Stanford University.

They noticed that the icy M-shaped ridges in Greenland looked like smaller versions of the double ridges of Europa, which are the most common feature on this moon. The twin peaks of Europa were first photographed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the 1990s, but little was known about their formation.

Scientists used ice-penetrating radar to observe the Greenland ridges forming as water surfaced about 30 meters below the surface and the ice sheet ruptured.

“It’s particularly exciting because scientists have been studying double ridges in Europe for more than 20 years and still have not found a definitive answer as to how double ridges form,” said lead author Riley Culberg, PhD. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford.

“It was the first time that we could observe something similar on Earth and actually observe the subsurface processes that led to the formation of the ridges,” Culberg said in an interview with the AFP news agency. “If Europa’s double ridges also form in this way, it suggests that shallow water pockets must have been (or could still be) extremely common.” Life there has a chance.

Europa’s water pockets could be buried five kilometers under the ice cap – but that would still be much more easily accessible than the much deeper ocean.

NASA’s new mission will penetrate the ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa

“If these pockets of water form because seawater has been pushed through fractures in the ice sheet, then it’s possible that they contain evidence of life in the ocean itself,” Culberg said.

According to Schröder, water closer to the surface would also contain “interesting chemicals” from space and other moons, increasing the “chance that life will set a record”.

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, due to launch in 2024 and arrive in 2030, will have ice-penetrating radar equipment similar to that used by scientists studying Greenland’s twin peaks.

According to Europa Clipper’s website, the moon’s ocean is expected to contain more water than all of Earth’s seas combined. “If there is life on Europa, it would almost certainly be completely independent of the origin of life on Earth. That would mean that the origin of life throughout the galaxy and beyond should be very easy,” said project scientist Robert Pappalardo.

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