The possibility of life on Europa


About Europa


Missions to Europa


Exploring Europa


The Discovery of Europa

Authors and Resources

          Europa appears to be one of the few places in our solar system that we might find extraterrestrial life. The most compelling reason scientists believe there may be life on Europa is due to the possibility that there is liquid water and volcanic activity below the surface of the moon. Internal heating on Europa, due to Jupiterís tidal pull, could melt the underside of the ice covering the moon, forming an ocean of liquid water underneath its surface. Liquid water is essential for life on Earth and is the most probable reason for life elsewhere. Volcanic activity may also provide the necessary heat to keep water on Europa from freezing and may provide some important dissolved chemicals needed by living organisms. If there is life on Europa, it would have to exist in an ice-covered ocean. The best place to look for life on Europa may be in the rocks under the ocean where internal heat sources could transfer energy to organisms living in the rocks.

Life on Earth can thrive or be preserved in a range of hostile conditions. Life forms have survived in volcanic vents deep in ocean trenches below the penetration of sunlight. It has been found thriving on upwelling chemical nutrients found in near- boiling water, in ice more than 400,000 years old, and in Siberian permafrost more than five million years old. Microorganisms locked in ice have a chance of remaining viable for long periods of time. Such an example is the survival of microorganisms inside Antarctic ice. Life on Earth tolerates many different hostile environments. Therefore, extremely severe conditions of cosmic environments do not seem to exclude the possibility that microorganisms may exist on Europa as well.  All life needs water, and all life needs an energy source, be it sunlight, plants or geothermal energy. Do the present conditions on Europa provide an environment in which life could survive? Scientists believe it may.