The search for life beyond Earth has always been one of the driving forces behind interplanetary missions. And one of the most interesting researches concerns Jupiter and its moons. Among the 53 moons orbiting Jupiter, one of them, Europe, is full of data suggesting the presence of water oceans beneath its surface, indicating that it may be habitable.
As NASA prepares to launch the ambitious send Europa Clipper to the homonymous moon of Jupiter, wants to delve into the secret of water plumes that erupt from the surface of the ice-covered ocean world. The spacecraft will study the moon from its deep interior to its surface to determine if it has components that make it viable.
The scientists said that Europe is geologically dynamic and produces heat inside as its solid layers extend and bend from the "gravitational tug" with the host planet and neighboring moons. It is not the heat of the Sun that prevents groundwater from freezing on these ice-covered moons, on the contrary, it is this heat produced from the inside that could stop freezing below the surface.
Scientists using the Galileo spacecraft, the space telescope Hubble and large Earth-based telescopes have reported dimming of cloudy water or its chemical components in Europe. However, no one is sure.
«We are still in the field where there are some really interesting facts, but none of them are certain"He said Matthew McKay Hedman, member of the Europa Clipper's Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europe (MISE) scientific team. These plumes, when studied by the Europa Clipper spacecraft, could provide information about the moon's inner layers.
Scientists first observed these mysterious columns exploding from the surface of Saturn's moon Ekelados in 2005. The giant column of vapors, ice particles and organic particles sprayed from the moon's south polar region suggests that there is an ocean of water. in liquid form under the ice shell of Egelados and confirmed that the moon is geologically active.
These jets pushed Egelados and other worlds into the outer solar system, without atmospheres and away from the heat of the Sun, to the top of NASA's list of places to look for signs of life. «Many people believe that Europe will be Egelados 2.0, with jets constantly erupting from the surface. But we can not see it that way. Europe is a completely different beast", Said the Lynnae Quick, a member of the scientific team behind the cameras of Clipper's Europa Imaging System (EIS).
Europe is different from Enceladus, as it is much closer to Jupiter than Enceladus to Saturn. More heat is generated on the moon by the friction generated as it orbits its host planet. «As inland heat stimulates geological activity in the rocky worlds, Europe is expected to have more extensive geology than Enceladus.", Said NASA.
The Europa Clipper mission is preparing to carry out the first specific and detailed study of an ocean world beyond Earth. The detector will determine if this distant moon has favorable conditions for life. The aim of the mission is to explore Europe to explore its habitat.
The spacecraft is not being sent to find life, but will try to answer specific questions about Europe's ocean, ice cap, composition and geology. Europe was first discovered by Galileo in 1610, who also found three other moons, Ganymede, Callisto and Ios, around Zeus.