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Ocean Worlds: Does Jupiter’s moon Europa have an ocean? And life?

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Is there life beyond Earth? Scientists have searched for environments that might support life on exoplanets beyond our solar system since the 1990s—and they’ve found more than 5,000 so far—but there are ocean worlds that might sustain life closer to Earth, starting with Europa.

Jupiter‘s icy moon Europa may be the most promising place to find life in the solar system. This ‘Space Shorts’ video from The Education Office at NASA JPL shares why we think Europa may have water—a potential indicator of life—below its thick shell of ice.

“First—a spacecraft showed us! Europa’s surface is mostly made of water ice, with some salts.

Europa's surface

“Second — that surface is different than a lot of others in the Solar System. We see lots of cracks and ridges, but not so many craters. It may be that an underground ocean causes the surface to warm and crack, changing the landscape and erasing craters.

“And the final most compelling clue? Europa’s changing magnetic field. What’s under the surface conducting that much electricity? A hidden, salt water ocean would explain it.”

twice as much water as Earth?
NASA’s Europa Clipper orbiter will launch in 2024 to learn if this icy world has the required conditions for life.

And Europa isn’t the only space object suspected of having an ocean: Enceladus, an Arizona-size moon in Saturn‘s orbit, sprays its icy ocean hundreds of miles into space where Cassini sampled it. Cassini’s gravity measurements of Saturn’s Titan moon suggest the presence of an underground ocean.

Learn about these and a few other intriguing locations in NASA’s What You Need to Know About Ocean Worlds:

Related reading in The Atlantic: There’s Hope for Life on Europa, a Distant Moon.

Watch these related videos next on TKSST:
• Can ice on Europa and Enceladus help us find extraterrestrial life?
• Ocean Moon, Ocean World: The water beneath Europa’s icy surface
• Testing a Space Rover Under Alaskan Ice
• What have we found while looking for another Earth?
• In search of water on Mars – Seasonal dark streaks on the Red Planet

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