Galileo Galilei was credited with discovering Europa in 1610. Europa is officially the sixth closest moon of the planet Jupiter and the sixth largest moon in the entire solar system. Although slightly smaller than the moon that revolves around planet Earth, the composition of Europa is what has scientists excited. This moon very well offers the best chance so far of proving that there is life beyond planet earth. Confirmation of whether this is true, maybe a few years off in proving or disproving since nothing more than the occasional flyover using space probes in the 1970s is the closest contact made so far.
Scientists are pretty confident about the fact that Europa is made up of primarily silicate rock. The crust is comprised of frozen water and an inner core that is suspected to be nickel-iron. There are a water-ice crust and more than likely a nickel-iron core. The heat from the core keeps the oceans of water beneath the icy surface liquid. The atmosphere is made up mostly of oxygen. NASA reports they have detected “clay-like substances that are often associated with organic material.” The smooth surface appears to be young, and they have detected a nearly tectonic plate movement of the ice surface. The combination of life-sustaining water, heat, oxygen and minerals all point to strong possibilities of life on Europa.
The European Space Agency plans a mission to Europa in 2022 and NASA plans a robotic mission in the mid-2020s. What scientists want to see is if the waters below the ice surface support life. The discovery of this moon resembles what is known about early Earth conditions. The answer to the question should come within the next ten years. Although proving life exists on Europa would be headline news, it is far from being the home of super-intelligent evolved species found in science fiction materials. Proof of life beyond Earth would be valuable information that could get people interested in space exploration once again.
Written by: Mae Merriweather