Jupiter moon Europa’s ocean may have enough energy to support life

Jupiter MoonJupiter Moon

Jupiter’s moon Europa might be able to support life even if there’s little or no volcanic activity under the satellite’s icy shell, a new study suggests.

A salty ocean of liquid water is believed to lie beneath Europa’s icy exterior. Scientists think this ocean could be habitable, if it harbors the required chemical building blocks and the right proportion of elements to provide energy for biological systems — the right ratio of oxygen to hydrogen, for example.

The new study suggests that there is, indeed, enough of that energy. A research team led by Steve Vance, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, found that, even without taking possible volcanic processes into account, Europa likely produces 10 times more oxygen than hydrogen, just as Earth does.

According to the team’s calculations, Europa’s hydrogen is generated as seawater reacts with rock in the moon’s crust. Europa has cooled slowly over the eons, forming new cracks in the crust that expose more rock to seawater, thus generating more hydrogen, the researchers said.

Meanwhile, the oxygen would come from ice on Europa’s surface. Radiation from Jupiter — which is far more intense than anything experienced on Earth’s surface — breaks water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen then reacts with other compounds in the water as well as the hydrogen. As the oxidants sink, they get recycled into Europa’s interior, and then into the ocean, study team members said.

Until now, many planetary scientists thought that Europa, kneaded by Jupiter’s gravity, would be volcanically active. After all, the neighboring moon Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system; Jupiter’s gravity and tidal forces deform Io’s crust and mantle, generating huge amounts of heat.

Something similar could be happening at Europa, but nobody knows for sure if it is. Much speculation about possible Europan life envisions a biosphere that resembles the clusters of life found near hydrothermal vents on Earth’s ocean floor. But the new research suggests that volcanism isn’t necessary to cycle chemicals through the ocean, and thus is probably not necessary for living things to survive, study team members said.

The study was published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

By Jesse Emspak, Space.com Contributor

About the Author

Bill West
The founder and director of several fine art related promotional marketing companies along with their companion websites. Bill West is all about Art, Sculpture and all things Spatial. The aforementioned website’s – ARTdefs.com - SculptSite.com, his blog and podcast - SpatialSite.com – all provide a place for artists, both those just getting started to those who are seasoned an achievable path to recognition. Through Comprehensive Search & Discovery - with relevant results all Linked directly to you the Artist. You, the artist control all your links, nor more haphazard pie in the sky guesswork! Thus enabling you the Artist to display and achieve the all important feedback about your work. Not only that, but it assists in setting up that critical dialogue with potential clients. Here artists, sculptors, photographers, and object artists have an opportunity to participate, and exhibit their work in a visual place that is highly Searchable, and easily accessible to the public. No programming and it's Visual! BE SEEN! We do not sell, but assist you in the sales process. Bill feels that we are an important component of your marketing and promotional success. If you do one thing to promote your art – ArtSearchLinks.com would be an ideal choice… Bill West first became involved in the visual communications industry in 1972. Eight years later he’d formed his own computer graphics systems company, which integrated Auto cad and 3D visualization programs to the PC. Always a forward thinker, Bill can spot market changes in the making and is good at positioning companies to benefit from that eventuality. A good example of this seeming clairvoyance is the way he jumped on the internet in 1993. By 1995 he had created a respected internet marketing business catering to the visual arts community. With years of knowledge and experience under his belt, Bill is a seasoned entrepreneur, gallery owner (since 1971) and solid supporter of the arts. Bill works to pave the way for all artists, both seasoned as well as new and upcoming artist talent.

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