Exploring Jupiter’s moon Europa

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A new ASU study shows Jupiter’s moon Europa may have had a slow evolution. Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon and is one of the most promising places to search for alien life in our solar system.

This study implies there may be limited hydrothermal activity and seafloor volcanism on Europa, which may hinder habitability, but more research is needed. In October 2024, NASA plans to launch a spacecraft called Europa Clipper, which should arrive at Europa in April 2030 to evaluate Jupiter’s icy moon for the potential conditions to host life.

The recent work by Kevin Trinh, a graduate student in Planetary Science at ASU, Joe O’Rourke, a Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU, and a third researcher, Carver Bierson, will help scientists to be better equipped to interpret incoming data from NASA’s Europa Clipper.

“Europa is much smaller than Earth. In terms of how much Europa weighs, it’s mass is about 1/100th of that of Earth. It’s a tiny place. Even though it’s really small, it may have twice as much water as all of Earth’s oceans combined, which is part of why Europa is a very fascinating moon,” Trinh said.

“Water is special, and when you get to high pressures, water actually melts at lower temperatures. A lot of these icy moons out in the outer solar system, it’s really cold at the surface, but underneath, they’re icy shells that have these big oceans of liquid water,” O’Rourke said.

According to Trinh, Europa has four layers: ice shell, liquid subsurface ocean, hydrated seafloor and rocky mantle.

“One of the things we did in the study was put a question mark on this metal core. Our argument is that Europa is small, so unlike Earth, it may not have formed with a metal core, and it would have to experience a substantial evolution before it could form a metal core,” Trinh said.

Kevin Trinh, graduate student in Planetary Science at ASU; Joe O’Rourke, Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU

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