Europa is a prime candidate for life in our solar system, and its deep saltwater ocean has captivated scientists for decades. But it's enclosed by an icy shell that could be miles to tens of miles thick, making sampling it a daunting prospect. Now, increasing evidence reveals the ice shell may be less of a barrier and more of a dynamic system -- and site of potential habitability in its own right.
Ice-penetrating radar observations that captured the formation of a "double ridge" feature in Greenland suggest the ice shell of Europa may have an abundance of water pockets beneath similar features that are common on the surface. The findings, which appear in Nature Communications April 19, may be compelling for detecting potentially habitable environments within the exterior of the Jovian moon.
"Because it's closer to the surface, where you get interesting chemicals from space, other moons and the volcanoes of Io, there's a possibility that life has a shot if there are pockets of water in the shell," said study senior author Dustin Schroeder, an associate professor of geophysics at Stanford University's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). "If the mechanism we see in Greenland is how these things happen on Europa, it suggests there's water everywhere."
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