Europa, the magnificent icy moon of Jupiter, is an enticing destination in our solar system. Scientists have long thought of it to be home of just giant internal ocean, locked beneath a frozen crust which is 10 – 30 kilometres thick. The ocean water volume in Europa is twice the Earth’s ocean volume.
According to one research, Europa ocean is salty, i.e. similar to the Earth’s ocean, with mineral-laden rocks in direct contact with liquid water. Such an interface can lead to the development of rich and varied chemistry, which can ultimately support the possibility of the existence of life.
Even though we have seen the breath-taking pictures of Europa with its beautiful ice terrains, it might come as a shock to you that we have woefully limited data of Europa. The data we have is from Galileo and Voyager which are among some of the smaller treasure in our library of planetary exploration. So, we clearly have incomplete information of Europa as there is no consistent monitoring up close.
Three recent studies fill some fascinating voids of the stories. The first one is from the Galileo mission (2000) on the reanalysis of data from the Energetic Particle Detector. This instrument monitored the level of the high-energy proton running around within Jupiter’s potent magnetosphere, which is critically responsible for its environment. But according to another report, Huybrighs et al., during a flyby of Europa the detector detected a deficit of protons. The most satisfactory explanation is the presence of the water between the spacecraft and Europa.
The second study is the careful analysis of change in Europa’s surface by comparing the images from Voyager 1 & 2, New Horizons & Galileo which doesn’t show any evidence for any activity.
The third one involved the study of Galileo’s magnetic field data in the proximity of Europa. This way the researchers examined the possibility of the Jovian magnetic field producing movement in Europa’s deep ocean.
Overall, to receive more information on Europa we need to get back to it with massive data coverage. The European Space Agency has planned a mission for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. The launch is set to take place in 2022. Also, NASA has planned a mission Europa Clipper which is set to launch in 2024, arriving Jupiter in 2030.
Till then we will have to wait as this can unveil the existence of aliens in our solar system.