Enough With Mars, Let's Go to Europa


Mon, May 12th, 2014 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

On aeon magazine, what Lee Billings really wants to know is, if Europa is potentially so abundant with life underneath its icy crust, why are we still bothering sending probes to Mars?

Europa is roughly the same size as Earth’s Moon, and some researchers thought that it too might have an ancient, inert surface scarred by giant impact craters. Instead, they were surprised to see Europa bearing a bright and icy crust relatively free of blemishes, a sign that its outer shell is active enough to hide the telltale craters that scar the face of a world over geological time.

But Europa’s crust wasn’t wholly flawless — a jigsaw-puzzle network of cracks and fissures snaked across its surface. The cracks were filled with reddish-brown mineral salts that had welled up from the depths, and their spidery patterns suggested the whole crust was sliding over a deeper layer that was warm, wet, and slippery — a potential subsurface ocean. Investigators postulated that as Europa swung to and fro around Jupiter, tidal forces from the giant planet were causing the moon’s interior to flex, warming it through frictional heat like a paper clip bent back and forth in the palm of a hand. Though Europa's crust was young, an ocean beneath it produced by tidal heating could likely have existed nearly as long as the Jovian system itself, offering billions of years of time for life to arise and evolve in its depths.



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