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.
- 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.