At first, everybody thought that life could exist only on our planet. After studying the Solar System using powerful telescopes, astronomers believed that life could also evolve on other rocky planets. But since there are no other rocky planets in the “Goldilocks Zone” (where it’s not too hot and neither too cold for life to exist) except for Earth and Mars, scientists focused their attention in other directions as well.
One of those directions is represented by natural satellites of planets from our Solar System. Just like the Moon revolves around us, other natural satellites are orbiting around other planets. Luckily enough, Saturn and Jupiter have much more moons than Earth has: Saturn has 82 discovered moons, while the other gas giant has 79. But one of those numerous moons of Jupiter has captured the attention of astronomers in a special way.
Could alien life exist on Europa?
According to a new article from SciTechDaily, Jupiter’s moon Europa has its surface churned by small impacts.
Just like the surface of our Moon is teeming with craters and scars, it’s pretty much the same scenery on Europa.
Not only that the uppermost surface of the icy moon churns, but high-energy electron radiation is also doing its thing. Europa also has a salty ocean beneath a thick layer of ice, which raises the possibility for the existence of conditions suitable for life. That water could rise into the icy crust and onto the surface of the moon.
Due to new research, there’s an estimation for how far down the surface is disturbed by the “impact gardening” process. Scientists believe that the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon was churned by small impacts to an average depth of roughly 12 inches over millions of years. Furthermore, the molecules that might qualify as potential biosignatures, also meaning chemical signs of life, could be impacted at such a depth.
Emily Costello, the lead author of the new study and a planetary research scientist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, declared as quoted by SciTechDaily:
If we hope to find pristine, chemical biosignatures, we will have to look below the zone where impacts have been gardening,
Chemical biosignatures in areas shallower than that zone may have been exposed to destructive radiation.
NASA-funded scientists are aiming to explore the moon of the biggest planet from our Solar System with the upcoming Europa Clipper mission to find more answers.