We're about to discover life on Mars?now astronomers think there may be life on a moon of Jupiter!
With average temperatures of minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, an almost nonexistent atmosphere and a complex web of cracks in a layer of ice encompassing the entire surface, the environment on Jupiter?s moon Europa is about as alien as they come. So are the enormous forces behind the surface display, namely an ocean beneath the ice nine times deeper than Earth?s deepest ocean trench and gravitational affects from a planet 318 times the mass of Earth.
NASA?s Simon Kattenhorn says, "In order to really get at the issue, 'Is there life out there,?' we have to know the best place to look, and in the case of Europa, the best place to look is where cracks on its icy surface are active today."
Only a few decades ago, nobody would have believed any form of life could exist on or in an icy moon like Europa, but recent discoveries of amazingly adaptive bacteria in some of Earth?s harshest environments have led to the speculation that it is possible. Bacteria specialist Susan Childers says, "Europa has the potential for something very similar to hydrothermal systems we have here in our oceans. Very ancient organisms that thrive on oxidized metals could potentially be centered on one of these oases formed by heat and metals seeping from cracks in the ocean floor."
Although there is some debate over how thick Europa's outer shell of ice is--some say over 20 miles and some claim only a few--it is generally agreed that it covers an ocean more than 60 miles deep. This means that although Europa is only about the size of our moon, it has more water than Earth. Maybe we could colonize it someday?
Art credit: gimp-savvy.com
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