September 8, 2014 Space.com
Widely considered the solar system’s best bet for harboring extraterrestrial life, Jupiter’s moon Europa is becoming increasingly interesting.
Big slabs of ice are sliding over and under each other within Europa’s ice shell, a new study suggests. The Jovian satellite may thus be the only solar system body besides Earth to possess a system of plate tectonics.
“From a purely science or geological perspective, this is incredible,” study lead author Simon Kattenhorn of the University of Idaho told Space.com. “Earth may not be alone. There may be another body out there that has plate tectonics. And not only that, it’s ice!”
The new results come less than a year after plumes of water vapor were spotted erupting from Europa’s south polar region. That find excited astrobiologists a great deal, because it suggested that a robotic probe may be able to sample the moon’s subsurface ocean of liquid water at a distance, without even touching down.
“There have been a lot of recent exciting discoveries [about Europa],” Kattenhorn said. “All taken together, as NASA starts thinking about future missions, I’m hoping it will be pretty clear: This [Europa] is the obvious choice.”