Jupiter’s moon Europa has been long viewed as a potential habitat for alien life beyond Earth. Now, a new research reveals that the subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon, hidden beneath the thick shell of ice, should be able to support life.
Europa is one of the largest moons in our solar system, actually the 6th-largest moon. With a diameter of 3,100 km, Europa is bigger than Pluto but smaller than Earth’s moon. Alongside other candidates like Mars and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Europa is one of our best chances of finding life. This idea, however, may be grounded in reality.
Using data from the Galileo mission, scientists have modeled geochemical reservoirs within the interior of the Jovian moon and found that the subsurface ocean could be formed by breakdown of water-containing minerals, a process called metamorphism.
In other words, these water-containing minerals ejected their water due to the tidal interactions with Jupiter and the other neighbor large moons (Io and Ganymede) or radioactive decay – may have played a role.
We were able to model the composition and physical properties of the core, silicate layer, and ocean. We find that different minerals lose water and volatiles at different depths and temperatures. We added up these volatiles that are estimated to have been lost from the interior and found that they are consistent with the current ocean’s predicted mass, meaning that they are probably present in the ocean.
lead researcher Mohit Melwani Daswani said in a statement.
This new model indicated that the oceans of other moons like Europa’s neighbor Ganymede and Saturn’s moon Titan could also have been formed by similar processes.
Researchers believe that these oceans would originally have been quietly acidic with high concentrations of carbon dioxide, sulfate and calcium.
Indeed it was thought that this ocean could still be rather sulfuric
but our simulations, coupled with data from the Hubble Space Telescope, showing chloride on Europa’s surface, suggests that the water most likely became chloride rich. In other words, its composition became more like oceans on Earth. We believe that this ocean could be quite habitable for life.
Europa is one of our best chances of finding life in our solar system. NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will launch in the next few years, and so our work aims to prepare for the mission, which will investigate Europa’s habitability. 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.
Now, using high-resolution imaging, NASA is looking for possible sites on Europa to investigate it’s habitability and test this new research.
The new release was presented at the annually virtual 2020 Goldschmidt geochemistry conference, the world’s main geochemistry conference, hosted by the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry.