Scientists have presented a new report that suggests that the subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa would be able to sustain life.
Europa is one of Jupiter’s 79 moons and is the sixth-largest moon in the solar system. With observations and data collected by the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft, astronomers have previously discerned that the ice crust on Europa floats above a subsurface ocean. The origins of the ocean have been unknown, yet.
According to EurekaAlert, scientists have found in a report presented at the virtual Goldschmidt conference as to how the subsurface ocean formed and also found evidence that suggests the ocean could support life. Researchers, in their study, used data from the Galileo mission to model the composition and physical properties of the Europa’s core, silicate layer, and the ocean beneath the surface.
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Lead researcher Mohit Melwani Daswani from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains that they found “different minerals lose water and volatiles at different depths and temperatures. We added up this volatiles that is 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”.
Researchers found that ocean worlds like Europa can be formed by metamorphism, a process where increased heat and pressure can breakdown water-containing minerals, subsequently releasing the water initially, because of the radioactive decay and later, because of the subsurface tidal movement.
Additionally, researchers also found that the subsurface ocean could have been acidic containing high concentrations of carbon dioxide, calcium and sulfate. Previously, the ocean was thought to be sulfuric, but researchers with their model showed that the oceans were chloride rich, making it very similar to oceans on Earth. On this basis, researchers believe that the ocean “could be quite habitable for life.”
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Image Credit: NASA/JPL/DLR