The ice that covers Europa is 60 miles thick. But the ocean that it covers is a rich, salty mix that appears not to be very different in makeup from our own ocean. And, according to a new study, there are breaks in the ice that allow the water to come up to the surface, so there’s a constant exchange of ice and water. And that means if you want to know what’s going on in the ocean, 60 miles down, you only have to scrape a little ice off the surface.
Sounds like a mission for a Mars-type rover. And that’s exactly what NASA is thinking, too.
Astronomer Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology has been studying Europa with Kevin Hand of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and he writes that the water-ice exchange “means that energy might be going into the ocean, which is important in terms of the possibilities for life there.”
The two authors believe the composition of Europa’s ocean may closely resemble the salty ocean of Earth.
“If we’ve learned anything about life on Earth, it’s that where there’s liquid water, there’s generally life,” Hand said. “And of course our ocean is a nice, salty ocean. Perhaps Europa’s salty ocean is also a wonderful place for life.”
There’s no dry land on Europa, other than ice. And the temperature on the surface is about –260 degrees F. So, probably no little green men there. But perhaps some little green fishy folks.