Niharika Navin

Year: 2018-19

Niharika Navin

School: Vidyashilp Academy

Grade: 10

City: Bengaluru

Europa, one of the Galilean moons of Jupiter, has always managed to grab the interests of our scientists today. It is covered with a thick layer of frozen water with a surface that is scarred with ridges, crack and seams- much like the earths polar ice caps. Pictures and data from the Galileo spacecraft suggest Europa is made of silicate rock, and has an iron core and rocky mantle. Later studies even revealed that it may host a form of plate tectonics- making it much like our home planet - thus leading me to believe that there must be a mission sent to this moon.

There are numerous widely supported speculations about this moon - but what can be asserted without proof, can be dismissed without proof - thus the main objective of sending a mission to Europa must be to test these existing theories.

The Hubble space telescope has observed plumes of water erupting from its surface- thus strengthening the belief that there exists an ocean of liquid water underneath its frozen surface. If we could have a spacecraft fly through these plumes, we could verify this theory by testing the materials ejected to check the presence of water and other mineral substances. There are other alluring clues that indicate that Europa may indeed have a relatively warm interior- from the young icy surface with befuddling fractures, to the disruption in Jupiter’s magnetic field. Furthermore, if a space craft could land on the moon- we could collect and analyse samples of the substance that gives Europa its distinct reddish streaks- that is also found extensively in the puzzling chaos terrains on the moon- to confirm if it is radiation-bombarded sea salt from an underground ocean.

Testing these theories will also lead us to the answer of whether under Europa’s vast frozen surface the alleged ocean of salty water could host life? We humans have always wondered if there is life elsewhere in the cosmos, and there is strong evidence that there could be 'life as we know it' in our own cosmic backyard. Europa has its own habitable zone around Jupiter- not too close, which would turn it volcanic like Io, and not too far, which would make it cold like Callisto. By studying the nature of different kinds of habitable zones like these, we could learn more about the different conditions in which life and how it can exist outside the ‘Goldilocks zone’ in various star systems, including our own.

Europa is believed to have vents that, in the absence of the solar radiation, could provide a necessary thermal environment- not to mention the tidal forces of Jupiter that could provide the same. This energy could, in turn, support microbial life analogous to that found around hydro thermal vents in Earth's oceans. Cosmic rays from space striking the icy surface could free up more oxygen to drive bigger life forms, like fish- and spacecrafts must test the presence of gases released by these hypothesised life forms and other indicators of life.

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