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The chances of discovering life beyond Earth are increasing. There is much more water in Europe than previously thought

Greenland radar observations can tell a lot about what lies beneath the surface of Europa, the ice moon of Jupiter. If the structures on the surface of both ice caps have the same origin, then Europe is more interesting than previously thought.


Europe has long been considered the most promising world for seekers of extraterrestrial life in the solar system. Jupiter 's moon hides an ocean of liquid water in which there is twice as much water as all oceans on Earth. An ice crust with a thickness of several to several dozen kilometers effectively protects against the effects of harmful cosmic rays and a stream of energetic particles delivered to the surface by the magnetic field of Jupiter. In the interior of the moon there is a rocky core, which most likely creates ideal conditions for hydrothermal activity at the point of contact with water. Theoretically, therefore, there are ideal conditions for the emergence of life in this place.


Europa moon full of water?


The problem, however, is that the same thick ice crust means that any probes and landers sent from Earth would have little chance of reaching the subsurface ocean. Thus, checking whether there is actually life in the interior of the moon is so far unrealistic. Yes, geysers similar to those gushing from the south pole of Enceladus have already been seen in Europe , but they are only periodic and you never know when they will appear again or where.


Where is Europe and where is Greenland?


This is where the latest radar surveys of characteristic formations on the surface of Greenland come into play. We are talking about long faults with characteristic double raised edges. These types of formations can also be seen in many photos of Europe. In Europe, they reach monstrous sizes. The valleys are even several hundred meters wide and are surrounded on both sides by edges up to 300 meters high. The first photos of such structures were taken in the 1990s by the Galileo probe.


If the process of creating these characteristic faults is the same as in Greenland, then you may find that there is much more water in Europe than previously thought and it is much more available. Research indicates that such faults are formed just above the local pockets filled with water, and located in the very crust of the moon.


The above structure, photographed on the surface of Europe by the Galileo spacecraft, is 2.6 km wide and 300 m high. Source: JPL-Caltech / NASA


Moreover, the scientists point out that if such a pocket is much closer to the surface, there is a greater probability of water contamination with chemicals from space, including other Jupiter's moons, such as volcanic Io. These chemicals can only increase the chance of life in these water reservoirs.


Two space probes will soon fly towards Europe: Europa Clipper and Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE). The probes will be able to check whether the structures on the surface of Europe were created exactly in the same way as in Greenland, because data from Greenland allowed scientists to extract the characteristic radar features of these formations. Now it is enough to check whether the radars installed on board space probes will see exactly the same on Europe.

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