International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

New research about Jupiter’s moon Europa


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Europa

Mains level: Hunt for extra-terrestrial life

A team of researchers from Stanford University have said that on one of Jupiter’s moons Europa, a prime candidate for life in the solar system might have abundance of water pockets beneath formations called double ridges.

About 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.
  • NASA notes that scientists believe Europa’s ice shell is 15-25 km thick and is floating on an ocean, which is estimated to be 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 is the new finding?

  • It is already known that Europa, whose surface is mostly solid water ice, contains water beneath it.
  • The researchers are now saying that the double ridges – the formations which are most common on Europa’s surface and are similar to those seen on Earth’s Greenland ice sheet .
  • They are formed over shallow pockets of water.

Significance of the recent findings

  • The central implication is that the shallow water pockets beneath the double ridge 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, 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.
  • This suggests active volcanism and thus a possibility for life.


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