The ‘scratched’ surface of the icy moon Europa. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
New comprehensive mapping of the radiation pummelling Jupiter’s icy moon Europa reveals where scientists should look – and how deep they’ll have to go – when searching for signs of habitability and biosignatures.
Since NASA’s Galileo mission yielded strong evidence of a global ocean underneath Europa’s icy shell in the 1990s, scientists have considered that moon one of the most promising places in our Solar System to look for ingredients to support life. There’s even evidence that the salty water sloshing around the moon’s interior makes its way to the surface.
By studying this material from the interior, scientists developing future missions hope to learn more about the possible habitability of Europa’s ocean. However, Europa’s surface is bombarded by a constant and intense blast of radiation from Jupiter. This radiation can destroy or alter material transported up to the surface, making it more difficult for scientists to know if it actually represents conditions in Europa’s ocean.
As scientists plan for upcoming exploration of Europa, they have grappled with many unknowns: Where is the radiation most intense? How deep do the energetic particles go? How does radiation affect what’s on ...