Finding life beyond Earth could change our understanding of life and habitability. The best place to look for life beyond Earth is Jupiter's moon, Europa. It has been estimated Europa may have a liquid, salt-water subsurface with 2 to 3 times the volume of all Earth's oceans. Knowing that all life requires water, it is in our best interest to explore Europa. This thesis explored the plausibility of life on Europa in four of its environments: on the surface, under the ice shell, in the liquid subsurface, and at the bottom of the liquid subsurface. Each of these environments were defined from science literature and compared to known Earth analogs. Europa's surface is not likely to support life, as there is not liquid water present. There is also extremely high radiation bombardment and extremely low surface temperatures that are estimated to be well out of the range for supporting life. It is more plausible that life could be under Europa's ice shell than on the surface. Under the surface, radiation exposure dramatically reduces. Researchers have found organisms on Earth that can live in similar environments as Europa's ice as well. These organisms require some interaction with liquid water though. Uncertainties about Europa's ice shell thickness and radiation load per depth it experiences, as well as there being limited research on organisms in ice environments, hinder us from definitively assessing the plausibility of life under the surface. The best environment on Europa to look for life on Europa is the subsurface. There remain a lot of uncertainties about the subsurface, however, that make it difficult to assess the plausibility of finding life. These uncertainties include its depth, water activity, salinity, temperature, pressure, and structure. This subsurface may be suitable for life, but until we can further understand the environment of the subsurface, we cannot make definite conclusions. As for assessing the plausibility of life at the bottom of Europa's subsurface, there is not much we know about this environment either. It has been suggested there may be hydrothermal vents, but no evidence has either supported or rejected this idea. Without a clear understanding of the environment at the bottom of the subsurface, the plausibility of life here cannot be definitively answered. It is apparent we need to further study Europa. In particular, we need to focus on understanding the subsurface. When the subsurface is better defined, we can better assess the plausibility of life being present. Fortunately, both NASA and the ESA are currently planning missions to Europa that are scheduled to launch in the 2020s.
- Deep Freeze: Could Life Exist on Europa?