Colonization of Europa

Colonization of Europa

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Europa (moon)
Europa Slightly smaller than Earth's Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and probably has an iron core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is composed of ice and is one of the smoothest in the Solar System. This surface is striated by cracks and...

, the fourth-largest moon of Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

, is a subject in both science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 and scientific speculation for future human colonization. Europa's geophysical features, including a possible subglacial water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 ocean, make it a strong possibility that human life could be sustained on or beneath the surface.


Europa as a target for human colonization has several benefits compared to other bodies in the outer solar system, but is not without challenges.

Possible advantages

Europa is thought to have a liquid water ocean underneath its icy exterior. The access to this liquid water ocean is a major difficulty, but the abundance of water on Europa is a benefit to any considerations for colonization. Not only can water provide for colonists' drinking needs, it also can be broken down to provide breathable oxygen. Oxygen is also believed to have accumulated from the radiolysis
Radiolysis is the dissociation of molecules by nuclear radiation. It is the cleavage of one or several chemical bonds resulting from exposure to high-energy flux...

 of the ice on the surface that has been convected into the subsurface ocean and may prove sufficient for oxygen-using marine life.

Possible problems

The colonization of Europa presents numerous difficulties. One is the high level of radiation from Jupiter's radiation belt, which is about 10 times as strong as Earth's Van Allen radiation belt
Van Allen radiation belt
The Van Allen radiation belt is a torus of energetic charged particles around Earth, which is held in place by Earth's magnetic field. It is believed that most of the particles that form the belts come from solar wind, and other particles by cosmic rays. It is named after its discoverer, James...

s. As Europa receives 540 rem
Röntgen equivalent man
Named after Wilhelm Röntgen , the roentgen equivalent in man or rem is a unit of radiation dose equivalent...

 of radiation per day (500 rem is a fatal dose), a human would not survive at or near the surface of Europa for long without significant radiation shielding. Colonists on Europa would have to descend beneath the surface when Europa is not protected by Jupiter's magnetotail
Jupiter's magnetosphere
The magnetosphere of Jupiter is the cavity created in the solar wind by the planet's magnetic field. Extending up to seven million kilometers in the Sun's direction and almost to the orbit of Saturn in the opposite direction, Jupiter's magnetosphere is the largest and most powerful of any planetary...

, and stay in subsurface habitats. This would allow colonists to use Europa's ice sheet to shield themselves from radiation.

Another problem is that the surface temperature of Europa normally rests at -170 C (-275°F). However, the fact that liquid water is believed to exist below Europa's icy surface, along with the fact that colonists would spend much of their time under the ice sheet in order to shield themselves from radiation, may somewhat mitigate the problems associated with low surface temperatures.

The low gravity of Europa may also present challenges to colonization efforts. The effects of low gravity on human health are still an active field of study, but can include symptoms such as loss of bone density, loss of muscle density, and a weakened immune system
Immune system
An immune system is a system of biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease by identifying and killing pathogens and tumor cells. It detects a wide variety of agents, from viruses to parasitic worms, and needs to distinguish them from the organism's own...

. Astronaut
An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

s in Earth orbit have remained in microgravity for up to a year and more at a time. Effective countermeasures for the negative effects of low gravity are well-established, particularly an aggressive regimen of daily physical exercise. The variation in the negative effects of low gravity as a function of different levels of low gravity are not known, since all research in this area is restricted to humans in zero gravity. The same goes for the potential effects of low gravity on fetal and pediatric development. It has been hypothesized that children born and raised in low gravity would not be well adapted for life under the higher gravity of Earth.

It is also speculated that alien
Extraterrestrial life
Extraterrestrial life is defined as life that does not originate from Earth...

 organisms may exist on Europa, possibly in the water underlying the moon's ice shell. If this is true, human colonists may come into conflict with harmful microbes, or aggressive native life forms. More recent studies have indicated that the action of solar radiation on the surface of Europa might produce oxygen, which could be pulled down into the subsurface ocean by upwellings of the interior. If this process occurs, Europa's subsurface ocean could have an oxygen content equal to or greater than that of the Earth's, possibly providing a home to more complex life.

Artemis Project Colonization Plan

In 1997, the Artemis Project
Artemis Project
The Artemis Project was a private venture to establish a permanent, self-supporting base on the Moon by 2002. It was named after Artemis, the goddess of the Moon and twin sister of Apollo . The project's creators, The Lunar Resources Company, formed the Artemis Society as a non-profit NGO in 1994...

 produced a plan to colonize Europa. According to this plan, explorers would first establish a small base on the surface. From there, they would drill down into the Europan ice crust, entering the postulated subsurface ocean. The colonists would then create (or, possibly, find) a pocket between the icy surface and the liquid interior in which to establish a base. This location would be protected from radiation by the ice overhead, and would be at a more reasonable temperature than the surface, as indicated by the presence of liquid water.

Colonization in fiction

  • Europa plays a role in the book and film of Arthur C. Clarke
    Arthur C. Clarke
    Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, famous for his short stories and novels, among them 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World. For many years, Robert A. Heinlein,...

    's 2010: Odyssey Two
    2010: Odyssey Two
    2010: Odyssey Two is a 1982 best-selling science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. It is the sequel to the 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, but continues the story of Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation with the same title and not Clarke's original novel. The book is a part of Clarke's...

    and its sequels. Super-advanced aliens aiding the development of life take an interest in the primitive life forms under Europa's ice and transform Jupiter into a star to kick-start their evolution, and forbid humans from landing on or colonizing Europa. In 2061: Odyssey Three
    2061: Odyssey Three
    2061: Odyssey Three is a science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke that was published in 1987. It is the third book in Clarke's Space Odyssey series...

    , Europa has become a tropical ocean world.
  • In Bruce Sterling
    Bruce Sterling
    Michael Bruce Sterling is an American science fiction author, best known for his novels and his work on the Mirrorshades anthology, which helped define the cyberpunk genre.-Writings:...

    's novel Schismatrix
    Schismatrix is a science fiction novel by Bruce Sterling, originally published in 1985. The story was Sterling's only novel-length treatment of the Shaper/Mechanist universe. Five short stories preceded the novel...

    , Europa is inhabited by genetically engineered
    Genetic engineering
    Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest...

    Posthuman may refer to:*Posthuman, a hypothetical future being whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer human by our current standards...

  • Alastair Reynolds
    Alastair Reynolds
    Alastair Preston Reynolds is a British science fiction author. He specialises in dark hard science fiction and space opera. He spent his early years in Cornwall, moved back to Wales before going to Newcastle, where he read physics and astronomy. Afterwards, he earned a PhD from St Andrews, Scotland...

    's short story "A Spy in Europa" depicts an advanced human society called the Demarchists, who are based in colonies on Europa that mainly cling to the underside of the ice crust at the surface of the ocean. A race of genetically altered humans adapted to live in the subsurface ocean is also created, some of whom later appear in Reynolds's 2006 short story "Grafenwalder's Bestiary."