Alien Life Exists on Jupiter's Moon Europa, New Research Suggests

Tuesday, 05 December 2017 - 10:15AM
Europa
Alien Life
Tuesday, 05 December 2017 - 10:15AM
Alien Life Exists on Jupiter's Moon Europa, New Research Suggests
Image credit: YouTube
It's been a busy few days for scientists who specialize in studying Jupiter's distant moon Europa.

Europa continues to look like the planet most likely of harboring alien life in our solar system, according to groundbreaking new evidence.

A pair of studies have been released, which both, in their own way, argue that the surface of the frozen moon may behave very similar to that of our own planet, thanks to the presence of tectonic plates, as well as swirling oceans that move water around in great cycles underneath its icy exterior.

via GIPHY


A paper by researchers from Brown University, published in The Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, details the findings of a computer simulation to try to learn more about Europa's crust, attempting to determine whether or not evidence of subduction might be noticeable on the moon's surface. Subduction is when two tectonic plates overlap, dramatically changing the shape of the world.

"We have this evidence of extension and spreading, so the question becomes where does that material go?" said Brandon Johnson, lead author on the study.

"On Earth, the answer is subduction zones. What we show is that under reasonable assumptions for conditions on Europa, subduction could be happening there as well, which is really exciting."

The results do hint at the possibility of subduction, which could mean that the moon has its own tectonic activity. While the simulation is far from conclusive, the possibility of tectonic plates lends credence to the theory that Europa might be capable of supporting life.

While our own planet's tectonic plates are often the cause of natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, they're also essential for life on Earth to survive, as the grinding and churning of the plates is what helps carbon to cycle through our seas, refreshing the nutrients and minerals that are found within our oceans.

If the same process is happening under the ice on Europa, there's a greater chance that the moon could sustain a healthy ecosystem—and alien life.




Another indicator that Europa might look a lot like Earth is a second study, published in Nature, which details evidence that ice is swirling and moving atop the surface of the moon.

Much like the Earth, Europa is warmer at its equator than at its poles, and the new study argues that the current movement of ice—which migrates from the poles to the equator over time—matches similar movement that occurred on our planet during the icy "Snowball Earth" period of its history, when everything was frozen.

If the ice is moving on Europa, that means a constant flow of water as it thaws at the equator, spreads out, freezes again at the poles, and then is slowly pushed back towards the equator again. The planet's outer layer remains icy at all times, but apparently, this ice could be up to a mile thicker at the poles than at the equator.

This structure of moving ice so strongly resembles an earlier period in Earth's history that it looks increasingly like Europa may be very similar in structure to our own planet—especially if tectonic plates are similarly experiencing subduction deep under the ice.

via GIPHY


It's difficult to tell whether this means that life could possibly be present on Europa, but there is hope—many of the same conditions that encouraged the development of life on Earth may also be present in orbit around Jupiter.

That said, scientists are a long way from confirming their theory about the moon. Some experts have proposed a mission to blow up a chunk of Europa in order to study the debris that comes out, but in all likelihood, it's probably going to be a long time before we get a really good look at what's going on all the way on the other side of the solar system.
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Europa
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Alien Life Exists on Jupiter's Moon Europa, New Research Suggests
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