Ocean in Jupiter’s moon potentially habitable

Date:26 June 2020 Author: Adrian Brown

NASA researchers have suggested that the ocean on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, may be able to sustain life. They presented the study on Wednesday, 24 June during a geoscience conference.

Europa has an ocean hidden under a layer of ice, and it previously has been considered as a potential carrier for extraterrestrial life, according to Reuters. Now researchers, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California say that they have found potential for this.

The researchers found that the ocean was possibly formed via a breakdown of minerals which contained water, due to either radioactive decay or tidal forces.

“We think Europa’s ocean may have been habitable early when it formed because our models show that the ocean’s composition may have been only mildly acidic, containing carbon dioxide and some sulfate salts,” said the study’s leader, planetary scientist Mohit Melwani Daswani of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The availability of liquid water is the first step to habitability. In addition, chemical exchange between the ocean and the rocky interior may have been significant in the past so potential life may have been able to use chemical energy to survive.”

According to Phys Org, the researchers modeled geochemical reservoirs inside Europa by making use of pre-existing information from the Galileo mission.

Daswani said that “Europa is one of our best chances for finding life in our solar system,” and that they plan to investigate this further in the upcoming NASA Europa Clipper mission.

“Our models lead us to think that the oceans in other moons, such as Europa’s neighbor Ganymede, and Saturn’s moon Titan, may also have formed by similar processes. We still need to understand several points though, such as how fluids migrate through Europa’s rocky interior,” he said.

Reuters reported that the researchers are now investing whether Europa is currently habitable, as the present study has only looked into its previous habitability.

“A word of caution,” Melwani Daswani said. “If a place is habitable, it does not mean that it is actually inhabited, just that the conditions could allow for the survival of some extremely hardy forms of life that we know of on Earth.”

Image: Twitter / @Xavi_Bros

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