If there be life outside Earth, but within the Solar System, the greatest possibility lies on either Mars or Europa, Jupiter’s frozen moon. Europa has a thick crust of solid ice, underneath which lies a huge body of water, possibly uninterrupted. What has got astronomers really interested is the fact that just 1.8 miles below the icy surface, there may be a body of water as big as all the Great Lakes combined. This is above the liquid ocean, which sits even deeper from the surface. The possibility of life in this pocketof water is tantalizing.
Europa – a strange world
Europa was extensively studied by the spacecraft Galileo and found that it is a strange world. The heat from the Sun could never sustain the liquid ocean underneath, but the tidal forces due to Jupiter’s giant gravitational field provides enough energy for the ice to melt underneath and form the giant ocean. This ocean is thought to lie 100 km (or 62 miles) below the surface.
The study was done by Britney Schmidt and her team from the University of Texas, and their paper appeared in Nature today, i.e. on the 17th of November. The discovery provides an impetus for the search for life as it might be located much closer to the surface than previously thought.
This will also fuel the search for other subterranean lakes, like the one already found. Future missions to Europa could well include melting through the ice crust and taking samples from the great lake. Studies indicate that the water may be salty, and we already know how much life salt water can sustain.
The next giant leap for mankind might well be digging just 3 kilometers on an icy world far far away and inspecting the samples obtained. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll find something living.