The icy Jupiter moon Europa is an astrobiological beacon, quite literally glowing in the deep darkness far from the sun, a new study suggests.
Jupiter’s intense radiation environment likely lights up Europa’s icy shell, which overlies a huge, potentially habitable ocean of salty liquid water, researchers have found.
As the icy, ocean-filled moon Europa orbits Jupiter, it withstands a relentless pummeling of radiation.
Jupiter zaps Europa’s surface night and day with electrons and other particles, bathing it in high-energy radiation.
But as these particles pound the moon’s surface, they may also be doing something otherworldly: making Europa glow in the dark.
Scientists will get a chance to look for the real thing in this decade. NASA is currently developing a robotic mission to Europa, named Clipper, set to launch in the mid-2020s.
Clipper is designed to orbit Jupiter, but it will also carry out dozens of close passes of the icy moon, shifting its path each time so it covers new, frozen ground.