Facebook Twitter

Water on Jupiter’s moon could be a potential habitat for extraterrestrial life

Scientists have discovered similarities between Earth and Europa that suggest Jupiter’s moon may be a habitable place for extraterrestrial life

SHARE Water on Jupiter’s moon could be a potential habitat for extraterrestrial life
Jupiter and Saturn are seen in the sky.

Jupiter, left, and Saturn, right, are seen in the sky, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, above Chicago. The two planets are in their closest observable alignment since 1226, appearing in the alignment known as the “Great Conjunction,” which has also been called the “Christmas Star.”

Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

In a study published in Nature Communications on Tuesday, researchers compare mountain ridges found on Europa — Jupiter’s moon — to those in Greenland, which were formed by the thawing, refreezing and pressurization of water. This evidence suggests that there could be more water on Europa than scientists previously thought, and possibly life.

Similarities between Earth and Jupiter’s moon: While studying the effects of climate change on Greenland, a researcher discovered mountain ridges that look like the ones on Europa’s surface.

  • These “double ridges” are “M”-shaped mountain ridges with two peaks and a trough in the middle. The double ridges in the Greenland ice sheet are the only ones of their kind on Earth, but are plentiful on the surface of Europa, according to Phys.org.
  • “In Greenland, this double ridge formed in a place where water from surface lakes and streams frequently drains into the near-surface and refreezes,” said Riley Culberg, a doctoral student in electrical engineering at Stanford and the lead author of the study, according to Phys.org.

How were these ridges formed? For decades, scientists have theorized that within Europa’s thick, icy crust likely lies an underground ocean. The double ridges could have either been formed by tides from the ocean beneath Europa’s icy surface, or from water erupting deep within the moon’s crust, according to Science News.

  • Without being able to drill into Europa’s ice, it will be hard for scientists to tell the real cause of the ridges.
  • Scientists hypothesize that Europa’s ice crust could be about 12-18 miles thick, which would make the operation a daunting task, according to the study.

Is there life on Europa? Europa became a “leading contender” for life beyond Earth when scientists first discovered the underground ocean in the 1970s, according to the Guardian.

  • Due to the chemicals from space and volcanoes from Io — another one of Jupiter’s moons — “there’s a possibility that life has a shot if there are pockets of water in the shell,” said Dustin Schroeder, an associate professor of geophysics at Stanford University and senior author of the study, according to Phys.org.