Jupiter’s moon Europa could have a habitable ice crust

Juice, the mission in search of life on Jupiter’s moons 0:44 (CNN) — On one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, there is an ocean of salty water under a thick layer of ice. Now, a surprising connection between the ice sheet and the Greenland ice sheet on Earth has given scientists a new perspective: Europa’s ocean could be habitable, according to a new study.
Scientists have been intrigued by the impressive slices of Europa’s icy surface for more than 20 years. The double ridges have peaks that can reach almost 305 meters in height, with wide valleys between them. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft first captured these features in the 1990s, but researchers haven’t been able to determine how they formed. Studying the Greenland ice sheet using ice-penetrating radar observations, a team of researchers observed a similar M-shaped double ridge feature that is like a miniature version of the one on Europa. A study detailing the findings was published Tuesday in the academic journal Nature Communications. Water’s Impact on Ice Sheet Topography Airborne instruments help researchers study Earth’s polar regions for changes in ice sheets that could have an effect on sea level at world. These eyes in the sky also look for surface meltwater ponds, conduits that carry seasonal drainage, and subglacial lakes. “We were working on something totally different related to climate change and its impact on the surface of Greenland when we saw these little double ridges, and we could see the ridges go from ‘unformed’ to ‘formed,'” said the lead author of the study. study, Dustin Schroeder, an associate professor of geophysics in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University, in a statement. Operation IceBridge, a NASA mission that collected surface elevation and radar data from the ice sheet between 2015 and 2017, revealed that Greenland’s double ridge formed after ice fractured around water that it was refreezing within the ice cap. The pressure of the water bag caused the different peaks to rise. This led the researchers to wonder if the same would be possible on Europa, where pockets of water could exist under the ice cap, creating potentially habitable environments on the otherwise inhospitable layer of the moon. “In Greenland, this double ridge formed in a place where water from surface lakes and streams frequently drains to the surface and refreezes,” said study lead author Riley Culberg, a Ph.D. electrical engineering at Stanford, in a statement. This rendering shows how double ridges could form on Europa’s surface, above rapidly rising and freezing pockets of near-surface water. “One way that similar shallow pockets of water could form on Europa could be through subsurface ocean water being forced up into the ice crust through fractures, and that would suggest there could be a reasonable amount of exchange that occurs within the ice sheet. An ever-changing lunar surface The moon Europa appears to be a dynamic place, with plumes of water surging through cracks in the ice sheet, which is tens of kilometers thick. And this ice crust could be a place where the underground ocean and nutrients mix. “Because it’s closer to the surface, where you get interesting chemicals from space, from other moons, and from volcanoes on Io (another moon orbiting Jupiter), there’s a chance life has a chance if there are pockets. of water in the crust,” Schroeder said. “If the mechanism we see in Greenland is like these things occur in Europe, it suggests that there is water everywhere.” This was the first time scientists had been able to see something similar on Earth and actually observe the subsurface processes that led to the formation of the ridges, Culberg said. “The mechanism we posit in this paper would have been almost too bold and complicated to propose if we hadn’t seen it occur in Greenland,” Schroeder said. The extensive data the team has already collected on the Greenland ice sheet may allow them to use it as an analogue for dynamical processes occurring in Europe, also in the future. The temperature, chemistry and pressure are different in Europe compared to Greenland, so the team wants to investigate how these pockets of water work in Europe. Europa is the target of two upcoming missions, the European Space Agency’s JUICE (short for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) and NASA’s Europa Clipper. Clipper will carry ice-penetrating radar, similar to the one researchers used to study Greenland, to image the subsurface of the Europa ice sheet. Europa stands out as one of the best candidates for hosting extraterrestrial life in our solar system because of the liquid water in the subsurface ocean and what scientists understand about its chemistry, Culberg said.