Subterranean pools of salty water may be commonplace on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, according to researchers who believe the sites could be promising spots to search for signs of life beyond Earth.
Evidence for the shallow pools, not far beneath the frozen surface of the Jovian moon, emerged when scientists noticed that giant parallel ridges stretching for hundreds of miles on Europa were strikingly similar to surface features discovered on the Greenland ice sheet.
If the extensive ice ridges that crisscross Europa formed in a similar way to those in Greenland, then pockets of subsurface water may be ubiquitous on the body and help circulate chemicals necessary for life from the icy shell down to the salty ocean that lurks far beneath.
“Liquid water near to the surface of the ice shell is a really provocative and promising place to imagine life having a shot,” said Dustin Schroeder, an associate professor of geophysics at Stanford University. “The idea that we could find a signature that would suggest a promising pocket of water like this might exist, I think, is very exciting.”
At 2,000 miles wide, Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon. It became a leading contender in the search for life elsewhere when observations from ground-based telescopes and passing space probes found evidence of a deep ocean 10 to 15 miles beneath its icy surface. [Continue reading…]