In January 1610, Galileo Galilei made a remarkable discovery that would change our view of the universe forever. Through his telescope, he saw the four celestial bodies that we now know as the Galilean moons. Europa, Ganymede, Io, and Callisto were the first known moons orbiting a planet other than Earth: Jupiter.
The Italian astronomer could not have known at that time that Europa in particular was in the twenty-first centuryste century will interest scientists. What makes Europa more interesting than the dozens of other moons now discovered around Jupiter? Answer: This moon may meet the conditions necessary to make life possible.
Europa Clipper mission
In 2024, NASA will send the Europa Clipper spacecraft to Jupiter and its moons. The Clipper is supposed to arrive there in 2030, after which it will fly across Europe about fifty times. The purpose of the mission is interesting: to find out if life is possible on this unique moon.
NASA’s choice to send a billion-dollar space mission to Europe did not come out of nowhere. There are indications that Europa could host the organisms. Enough reasons to visit this moon close to Jupiter again.
Searching for a possible life under Europe
At first glance, Europe’s icy surface may not seem like an ideal habitat for living organisms (i.e., small creatures). However, the search for life mainly focuses on what lies beneath the ice layer. There is likely a liquid saltwater ocean sixty to 150 kilometers deep, containing more water than can be found on Earth.
This is interesting, because water is one of the basic building blocks of life as we know it. But with H only2Oh, you’re not there yet. More chemicals, including oxygen and carbon dioxide, are needed to make life possible. At least one of these puzzle pieces has previously been found on the moon: In 2023, the James Webb Space Telescope detected carbon dioxide in Europa’s icy surface, likely coming from the ocean beneath.
What will Kleber find in the depths of Europa’s ocean?
“On Earth, chemical diversity is important for life. The more diversity, the better. Life here needs carbon dioxide,” said Jeronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, USA, and author of one of the studies that reported the existence of carbon dioxide. CO in Europa: “Understanding what Europa’s ocean looks like will help us determine whether conditions support life as we know it.” Proven.
So it is not surprising that there is optimism among scientists that the ocean beneath Europa’s surface may contain the essential elements for life. Will the spacecraft find fish or sharks under the moon’s surface? That chance is almost non-existent: Clipper is not yet looking for signs of life itself, but he hopes to find out whether the building blocks needed to make life possible exist on Jupiter’s moon.
Willick Van Doorn studied journalism, traveled the world for a while, and eventually ended up in the editorial offices of Quest, National Geographic, and Runner’s World across the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. She is interested in the world, prefers to travel every month and always takes her running shoes with her.
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