School: Beckendorff Junior High School, Katy, TX
Teacher: Melissa Chuinard Jahant
The name Europa has an impressive historical significance. It was the name of the Phoenician mother of King Minos of Crete and the lover of Zeus, the Greek equivalent of the Roman God Jupiter. Europa also inspired the name of the continent of Europe. Most notably, Europa is the smallest of the 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter.
Europa was first sighted by Galileo in the year 1610. In recent years NASA’s Galileo spacecraft has made many flybys and collected tons of data. The Hubble Telescope found in 2013 that Europa might be venting water into space, caused by erupting cryogeysers.
These missions have resulted in many interesting findings and observations about Europa. Such as, if all the water in Europa and earth were in a ball, Europa’s ball’s radius would be 39 miles longer, even though Europa is smaller than Earth’s moon! Scientists have found that Europa is the only other body in the solar system to have a similar form of tectonic plates to Earth’s and may have a special type of magnetic field due to some electrically conductive fluid beneath the surface. Europa also has tides that relax and stretch the moon surface. Scientists further state that Europa’s ocean may have volcanic or hydrothermal activity on the seafloor which could create nutrients that could make the ocean suitable for living things.
One of NASA’s adages was “to find life, follow the water”, and Europa has an ocean of liquid salt water! Much of the water discovered in other areas of the solar system is frozen. We know that liquids are needed for biochemical reactions which are the building blocks of life. Liquids allows transportation of key substances within structures, all the way from microscopic cellular level to complex planetary systems. And water being a universal solvent is the best liquid to sustain life. Further, the tectonic plate movement and possibility of volcanic activities could supply nutrients to subsurface life in the ocean.
I believe that if we were sending a satellite to another object in our Solar System, then it should go to Europa for two main reasons. First, a compelling point to consider is possibility of life due to all the above findings and observation and further having the key elements for life - water, energy and organic chemicals. Even NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan concluded: “All the ingredients are there to make us think Europa is the next place to go”.
The second, our observations are from flybys. We can gather so much more from a mission that will not only help us learn more about Europa but also understand more about our own planet, as Europa has some features similar to Earth.
In conclusion, I believe life could exist on Europa. A mission to this unique moon would not only expand our scientific knowledge and learnings but may also help us find a different species of life right in our own solar system.