Europa looks particularly promising for colonization when it gets too hot around the inner planets.
Slightly smaller than Earth's Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and has a water-ice crust and probably an iron–nickel core. It has a very thin atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is striated by cracks and streaks, but craters are relatively few. In addition to Earth-bound telescope observations, Europa has been examined by a succession of space probe flybys, the first occurring in the early 1970s.
Europa has the smoothest surface of any known solid object in the Solar System. The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably harbour extraterrestrial life. The predominant model suggests that heat from tidal flexing causes the ocean to remain liquid and drives ice movement similar to plate tectonics, absorbing chemicals from the surface into the ocean below. Sea salt from a subsurface ocean may be coating some geological features on Europa, suggesting that the ocean is interacting with the sea floor. This may be important in determining whether Europa could be habitable. In addition, the Hubble Space Telescope detected water vapor plumes similar to those observed on Saturn's moon Enceladus, which are thought to be caused by erupting cryogeysers. In May 2018, astronomers provided supporting evidence of water plume activity on Europa, based on an updated critical analysis of data obtained from the Galileo space probe, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. Such plume activity could help researchers in a search for life from the subsurface Europan ocean without having to land on the moon.
The Galileo mission, launched in 1989, provides the bulk of current data on Europa. No spacecraft has yet landed on Europa, although there have been several proposed exploration missions. The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) is a mission to Ganymede that is due to launch in 2022, and will include two flybys of Europa. NASA's planned Europa Clipper will be launched in the mid-2020s.
Edited by fahrquad, 12 February 2019 - 12:08 AM.