The University of Texas at Austin
  • Science & Technology

    Europa’s “chaos terrain”

    By Britney Schmidt/Dead Pixel FX/Univ. of Texas at Austin
    Published: Nov. 16, 2011

    In a significant finding in the search for life beyond Earth, scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere have discovered what appears to be a body of liquid water the volume of the North American Great Lakes locked inside the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

    The water could represent a potential habitat for life, and many more such lakes might exist throughout the shallow regions of Europa’s shell, lead author Britney Schmidt, a postdoctoral fellow at the university’s Institute for Geophysics, writes in the journal Nature.

    In this video animation of a cutaway view of Europa’s icy shell, we see how vast lakes form below the surface.

    Further increasing the potential for life, the newly discovered lake is covered by floating ice shelves that seem to be collapsing, providing a mechanism for transferring nutrients and energy between the surface and a vast ocean already inferred to exist below the thick ice shell.

    “This new understanding of processes on Europa would not have been possible without the foundation of the last 20 years of observations over Earth’s ice sheets and floating ice shelves,” said Don Blankenship, a co-author and senior research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics, where he leads airborne radar studies of Earth’s ice sheets.

    • Quote 2
      Deane said on April 18, 2012 at 9:24 p.m.
      I'm impressed by the discovery. I wonder just how possible/practical it would be to construct a type of orbiting satellite/station with a number of probes and rovers on board at the ready to launch off of it to explore such findings as they become known? The station could be 'reloaded' with more probes to replace sent ones so as to keep up with changing technology. Just ruminating here. Thanks
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      Dr. Diether Schmidt said on Dec. 9, 2011 at 5:56 p.m.
      Exciting investigations, excellent scientific work, inspiring ideas for future astrobiological development for human involvement in the planetary system, very beautiful video presentation; thank you!
    • Quote 2
      Carmen Cusó said on Dec. 7, 2011 at 11:26 p.m.
      Es un progreso ver que aceptan e incorporan la formación de "oquedades" en la corteza, pero siguen sin entender nada al suponer la contracción hacia arriba de la capa superior cuando lo lógico es la contracción hacia abajo de la capa inferior mas el hundimiento posterior de la capa superior, que explica y justifica las irregularidades observadas en el terreno.
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      Graham Palmer said on Dec. 2, 2011 at 1:20 p.m.
      This is yet another exciting development in the search for life. I suspect that given enough time and $$$ to go look for it, we will find that several bodies in our quiet little solar system contain life, or the remains of life. The subsurface of Mars, Europa, Enceladus... These three plus our own amazing planet make four oases around one average sized star... Surely the galaxy must be teeming with life!
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      lenaperi said on Dec. 1, 2011 at 12:54 p.m.
      Since Europa does not have an atmosphere, could perhaps this thick layer of ice act as its 'atmosphere' providing shelter from the hazards of space? This is so exciting. I just hope that we discover just what's hiding underneath the ice in my life time. I have a strong suspicion that the recipe for life is everywhere, just waiting for the right conditions of a little bit of warmth and fluids, shelter from radiation. Nourishment seems to be the least of its problem as we have found microbial life forms feeding on just about anything.
    • Quote 2
      Audrey Fischer said on Dec. 1, 2011 at 12:48 p.m.
      Great Lake on Europa! Let's go diving!! One day, you can be certain, there will be a human outpost on Europa. (hmm... could it already be inhabited?) naaa.... Kudos! to our brilliant scientists! Create the dream and humans will develop the needed skills, understanding and technology. Hurray! (i'm not too excited, am i ; )
    • Quote 2
      DANNY said on Dec. 1, 2011 at 9:03 a.m.
      what about the oxygen how can they breathe if they used up all the oxygen in the water or is there oxygen on the planet can we live there or fish for the matter if all the oxygen is used up
    • Quote 2
      Greg Gordon said on Dec. 1, 2011 at 8:47 a.m.
      Is it too late to redirect the most recent Mars probe? I don't want to spend two years looking at dead rocks at the bottom of a crater. Let's go look at live water! By the way, why didn't those guys go look at Mars's ice cap instead of more dead rocks? Water=life. Just say'n. Gordo
    • Quote 2
      Jose R. Valencia B. said on Nov. 29, 2011 at 7:18 a.m.
      It's a well known fact that life comes from the sea, maybe this is a chance to relate us with the outer space. Europe is a curiosity in our solar system. Can it be the next step for mankind?
    • Quote 2
      ursula nape said on Nov. 29, 2011 at 5:39 a.m.
      can it be possible that we should live in Jupiter
    • Quote 2
      washington calisto said on Nov. 28, 2011 at 3:27 p.m.
      Exciting!!!, really we are close of one of great "impacts" of XXI cent.
    • Quote 2
      Jeffrey Conner said on Nov. 28, 2011 at 2:27 a.m.
      I think it is reasonably certain there is is a heat source below these features. One other explanation could be that they are recent impact sites of some kind. One thing that puzzles me is why an exchange of materials from the surface would make life "more likely". as per a previous post: (Pat MacEwen said on Nov. 16 at 10:19 p.m. We've known that cryovolcanoes provide a route between the surface and the subsurface ocean for quite some time, so this would not be unique. Why, then, would such an exchange make the development of life more likely in Europa's ocean? If there are smoker chimneys on the sea bottom, as seems likely, wouldn't that provide all energy and the minerals needed?) We have both cold seeps and hot vents on our ocean floor here on earth that do not rely on nutrients brought from the surface. Why not on a body that all evidence says must be nearly as volcanic as Europa's neighbor, Io?
    • Quote 2
      Joe Bauman said on Nov. 21, 2011 at 12:54 p.m.
      I was extremely impressed with both the research and the way the University of Texas at Austin presented the findings. Here's the blog I did about the subject for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. Feel free to repost. http://tinyurl.com/7mzh7fa Best wishes, Joe Bauman
    • Quote 2
      Dadster said on Nov. 18, 2011 at 11:14 p.m.
      Congratulations NASA! Thank you for bringing us celestial news from Space-time continuum .helps to balance and stabilize our minds buffetted by the upheavals of the trials and tribulations of our life on earth and make us the stronger imbued with ambrosial cosmic energy ! I am convinced that if we look more closely, we would not only find water but even find "life" out there in the cosmos . Life of a different denomination than what we know on earth but "life" all the same ."life energy " is dimensionally different from normal Electromagnetic and gravitational energies; for one thing , the conservation laws may not be applicable to the life- energy. " life" is there in carbon based bio- mass but also in silicon or arsenic or other inorganic. Or organic based chemical elements or, for that matter in cosmic chemical factories like the microbes, viruses and in bacteria replete with " consciousness " . I tend to believe in the recent discovery in Oxford University that the basic most fundamental ingredient of the Cosmos is not atoms, not quarks , not strings and super strings, but " information " which is nothing but " awareness " ! What better way is there to explain the range of our awareness from subatomic particles of Planck sizes to cosmic monoliths as Galacies and Blackholes and energy sources like black - energy , and vacuum- energies not subjected to the conservation laws of Electromagnetic energies.!! How else could our mind become capable of becoming aware of regions beyond the grasp of our mathematical models even? Such as the existence of mass-associated energies existing in realms that lie beyond the e=mc ^2 ,that lie in regions of the inequality e>mc^2 ; energies that can propagate at speeds greater than that of the speed of EM energy in vacuum ? Way out there , measureless energies lie for our use and exploitation which will come into our grips as science progresses . after all science is still at it's infancy , not fen as old as the already out- dated religious temporary but dogmatic " explanations " of the phenomena and the noumenon? NASA keep up the good work . You have a lot to do .may your tribe increase !
    • Quote 2
      Martin Pantoja said on Nov. 18, 2011 at 2:36 p.m.
      Congratulations to UTA for such a serious and profesional work. It is an amazing step to continue on the search of life beyond earth. Looking forward to knowing more discoveries on this issue.
    • Quote 2
      Jesenia said on Nov. 18, 2011 at 12:44 p.m.
      Valla!!!!!, eso sería grandioso... Sería muy interesante saber que en un futuro podriamos contar con espacio para dar vida a otras especies =)
    • Quote 2
      HERVE Gérard said on Nov. 18, 2011 at 11:51 a.m.
      Thank you so much from France (Jules Verne s' country !)
    • Quote 2
      rudi Gingele said on Nov. 18, 2011 at 4:56 a.m.
      As a NASA and science fan, my question arises as the answer comes out at this fantastic discovery of water on Europa's surface... Am I correct presuming that this finding implies that, after Mars, our space crews could establish an outer base there?. Congrats for everybody concerned.
    • Quote 2
      Shrikumar Hate said on Nov. 18, 2011 at 4:18 a.m.
      "Except Europa other Worlds are Yours" Quote from Arthur Carke's Classic "Space Odyssey 2013" Space Odyssey Part 3 "
    • Quote 2
      Chris said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 11:31 p.m.
      This would be even better if there were some sound or dialogue. I know silence is golden, but this would really be enhanced if there was some sound, narrative etc.
    • Quote 2
      Chris said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 11:29 p.m.
      This would be even better if there were some sound or dialogue.
    • Quote 2
      Prof.Eng.Patrick Morton said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 8:44 p.m.
      excellent work of investigation, a great example for my students down here in the Los Robles Astronomy Club in Maracaibo,venezuela,great example for youth and mankind,, please keep on like that!!!and thank you!!
    • Quote 2
      Peter said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 2:50 p.m.
      Do you see a mechanism for Jupiters radiation fields at the surface to produce coumpounds like sulphurs, salts ect?These then working back into the subsurface makeing it less habitable?
    • Quote 2
      William 'willie' Nelsen said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 1:13 p.m.
      "....please remember, I warned you re Europa!" - A.C. Clarke
    • Quote 2
      Kory McFarland said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 12:12 p.m.
      I have been observing Jupiter at Night with My Hand held Binoculars. I think I have seen two of Jupiters' Moons ???
    • Quote 2
      Laurence Burris said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 9:47 a.m.
      This is VERY exciting! Great job to one and all who help find this out.
    • Quote 2
      Otaciro said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 7:20 a.m.
      I would like to know what is the thikness of icy surface and the temperature distribution on the Europa sat surface. This is important to know about life surface. Thanks for the informaton about nice notice....Otaciro.
    • Quote 2
      Charles Efford said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 7:04 a.m.
      No Sound. I get sound on other clips but not this one.
    • Quote 2
      carlos said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 6:22 a.m.
      outstanding news!!!perseverance!!,congratulations all of you guys!!carlos,
    • Quote 2
      arlin jordan said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 5:33 a.m.
      Wonderful news.who knows what lies below. CONGRATS....
    • Quote 2
      Dr.A.V.Subba Rao said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 11:06 p.m.
      The efforts taken by the personnel indeveloping this video needs special thanks, further providing this information to enrich the knowldege of scientists located on this earth is also to be congragulated.
    • Quote 2
      Pat MacEwen said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 10:19 p.m.
      We've known that cryovolcanoes provide a route between the surface and the subsurface ocean for quite some time, so this would not be unique. Why, then, would such an exchange make the development of life more likely in Europa's ocean? If there are smoker chimneys on the sea bottom, as seems likely, wouldn't that provide all energy and the minerals needed?
    • Quote 2
      Jesse Jordan, MD said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 8:41 p.m.
      OK! Next Probe should have a submerge, floating platform "floating lab" and be sent within the next three years, no messing around and no delay. Get the private space agencies involved, I think we've wasted enough time! Where is my flying car!!!smile. Dr. J
    • Quote 2
      David Carter said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 7:45 p.m.
      Wednesday, 11/16/11 This snipit on Europa is really facinating. I think it might of been Eistein who said "the impossible takes a little longer to become reality". You should never discount the possibility someone like me will actually visit Europa.
    • Quote 2
      Gary Grella said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 7:33 p.m.
      Clearly, there is something happening beneath Europa's ice crust. Could there be submarine volcanos such as those on Io and Earth ? Could the ice crust evidence any submarine plate tectonics with a ridge system with its smoke stacks such as here ? And just how much tidal energy is available in the rocky part of Europa ? Is there a tide on Europa ? Are there any plans to send a probe to the seas of Europa ?
    • Quote 2
      esther mercedes nouel said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 7:19 p.m.
      Very interesting. Your scientists are doing a great job studying life beyond Earth. Congratulations for your researchs
    • Quote 2
      Patricia Najhawan said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 6:43 p.m.
      WOW! I cant wait to see the life forms living in those cold cold waters! NASA is amazing. I really cant wait till 2012 when we get you guys back into full swing again! Its going to be a lot more than flighty!
    • Quote 2
      Carles Spearman said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.
      Fantastic finding. While at Martin-Marietta we always thought there was liquid water under the service, but back in the 80's, we were still cavemen. Thank you for the info and presentation. Find us a landing spot!
    • Quote 2
      Mirko said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 5:31 p.m.
      This is a very luring discovery. I think that Europa is one among the most interesting places for finding a kind of life, at least in our solar system. My congrats to scientist of University of Texas!
    • Quote 2
      Robert Clarke said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 5:28 p.m.
      Nice video! Very exciting news!
    • Quote 2
      John Boevink said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 4:20 p.m.
      Another example of excellent scientific work being very well published, sharing the wonder and not much of the hard labour preceeding. Seeing Europa is not very big I wondered where the plume energy could come from. Perhaps similar to the Enceladus geysers, ie gravitational energy from Jupiter in this case. Any comment?
    • Quote 2
      Brandon Cole said on Nov. 16, 2011 at 2:09 p.m.
      It looks to me like this is an resent impact site, but is very neat none the less.
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