The Europa satellite is similar to Greenland and could host life forms

There is a natural satellite in our solar system that continues to attract the attention of the scientific community in particular: it is the Jupiter satellite Europa, whose dimensions are only slightly smaller than those of our Moon, but in terms of characteristics geological is much more attractive.

We learned about it in the 70s thanks to the first photos taken by the instrumentation of the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes, but the most interesting data arrived at the end of the 90s thanks to the Galileo probe, which allowed us to better understand its characteristics. superficial. Today we therefore know that the exposed part of Europe is completely frozen and that temperatures reach -220 °. Its thin atmosphere is mainly composed of oxygen and its magnetic field protects it from the radiation emitted by Jupiter, however the layer of gas surrounding the satellite is too thin to make it breathable for humans.

Yet if we could walk on its surface, the spectacle we would witness would be truly unique: imagine an endless expanse of ice with numerous crests that develop in height for 150-200 meters, and above us the immense planet Jupiter, which would appear on sight. about 24 times larger than our Moon. Damn charming and inhospitable at the same time.

Yet Europe has distinctive characteristics that have been studied for a long time but still mysterious, and among them we cannot fail to mention the aforementioned ridges, incredibly visible already from satellite images and which over the years have been the subject of every type of speculation.

Today we know that Europa is a geologically very active natural satellite, moreover, we have also hypothesized that it hides an iron core inside. The identification of natural phenomena very similar to terrestrial geysers suggests that under its surface there are hidden expanses of water as large as oceans whose content intrigues the scientific community.

A recent study published in Nature (in SOURCE) has analyzed some superficial crests discovering an incredible similarity with some rather well-known geological formations that we also find in Greenland.

Those identified on Earth appear as a reduced version compared to the crests of Europa, but the linear shape of the crests and the depression in the middle suggests a similar origin. Stanford University geophysicist Riley Culberg, lead author of the study, says that if we could cut them crosswise they would look like the capital letter “M”. These double crests in some cases extend for hundreds of km, are generally 150-200 meters high, and the peaks are 500 meters to 1 km away from each other.

If the aspect is similar to the terrestrial one, the origin could also be the same, and as regards the ridges of Greenland we know that they are the result of the refreezing of groundwater, of the pressurization and subsequent fracture of a pocket of water near the surface. We can therefore hypothesize that, similarly to what happens on Earth, also in Europe the water is not so deep in these areas. But the most exciting aspect of the matter is that these pockets of water could represent an ideal habitat for the formation of microbiological activitya second environment with respect to the underground oceanic one that has long been hypothesized.

“The presence of liquid water in the ice shell would suggest that the exchange between the ocean and the ice shell is common, which could be important for the chemical cycle that would help support life. Shallow water, in particular, they also mean there may be easier-to-visualize or sample targets for future space missions that could at least preserve the evidence of life without having to fully access the deep ocean. “

These are the words of Culberg, which open new glimmers of research and above all to a possible direct approach to the surface of Europa with respect to the simple observation via satellite of its characteristics.

The next study mission will be Europa Clipper, whose departure is scheduled for 2024, and once again SpaceX will take care of the launch, which will use a Falcon Heavy rocket to send the precious instrumentation out of Earth’s orbit. But it will be a study and observation mission, so for more advanced projects that involve sending robots to its surface we will have to wait a little longer.


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