Some scientists believe that life is possible on Europa. Europa is the fourth largest moon of Jupiter. There may be an ocean below its icy surface. If this is true, the moon may possess the necessary conditions for life.
Photo: Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter (Creative Commons: Stuart Rankin).
Requirements for Life
One of the most likely requirements for life on other planets is water. Water is a good solvent that can contain the basic building blocks of life. Gases and solids are not good media for supporting chemical reactions.
In addition to water, sufficient energy is required to support life. Too little or too much energy can make a planet uninhabitable. Just the right amount of energy allows water to exist in a liquid form.
The final requirement are carbon based chemicals that are the building blocks of life.
Conditions on Europa That Could Support Life
Europa’s surface is smooth and not covered with craters like the earth’s moon. Europa has an icy crust. The crust is fractured and is thought to be about five kilometers thick.
There is evidence that large oceans of water exist below the ice. The presence of water provides one of the requirements for life. Recent observations from the Hubble Space Telescope suggests the presence of water. The observations suggest that Jupiter’s moon may be creating plumes of water.
The moon’s oceans may be heated by Jupiter’s gravitational pull. Underwater volcanoes may also actively heat the water. These possible sources of heat provide the second requirement for life – an energy source. Underwater volcanoes may also be a source for carbon based chemicals.
Because the oceans lie below the moon’s crust, they are protected from harmful radiation. Thus, this moon may have the necessary water and energy to support life. And, that life could be protected from harmful radiation from space.
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