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FEATURE ARTICLE

Tides and the Biosphere of Europa

A liquid-water ocean beneath a thin crust of ice may offer several habitats for the evolution of life on one of Jupiter's moons

Richard Greenberg

Figure 9. Europa's biosphere may include several forms of life . . .Click to Enlarge Image

It's been suspected for at least a decade now that Jupiter's icy moon Europa harbors a global ocean of liquid water beneath its crust. To many scientists the presence of another ocean in our solar system immediately conjured up images of extraterrestrial lifeforms swimming in an alien sea. But what sorts of life could evolve in the dark waters of a subsurface ocean, and how would it derive the energy it needs to survive? Planetary scientist, Richard Greenberg has been studying the surface features of Europa, and he finds that the icy crust that covers the ocean may not be as thick as scientists had at first supposed. Cracks in Europa's surface suggest that the ocean waters may come very close to the surface. If so, the cracks themselves may provide a niche for life, and the light near the surface of the moon could provide energy for photosynthetic organisms.


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