Jupiter’s moon Europa is believed to have a sub-surface ocean covered with a thick shell of ice. A new study says that its ocean may have the same chemical mix as our Earth, providing conditions suitable for life. The sub-surface ocean is salty, and rich in chemicals that support life on Earth. Findings of the study were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Could Jupiter’s moon support life?
Scientists led by Steve Vance of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory analyzed whether Europa’s ocean could produce hydrogen and oxygen without any volcanic activity. They also studied how its chemical composition may have evolved over time. They found that the moon’s salty liquid insides could produce the right mix of chemicals to support life as we know it.
“We’re studying an alien ocean using methods developed to understand the movement of energy and nutrients in Earth’s own systems,” said Steve Vance in a press release. Europa is believed to have a rocky core fractured with deep cracks filled with water. Continuous cooling of the core creates more cracks, exposing more rocks to chemical processes. Vance and his colleagues believe that the rocky interior of Jupiter’s moon is far more Earth-like than previously thought.
Hydrogen on Europa is produced through serpentinization
Since interactions between Europa’s ocean water and rocks produce hydrogen in a process called serpentinization, they don’t require aid from volcanic activities. Researchers believe that Europa’s ocean water permeates as deep as 15 miles into its rocky interior. As water seeps into the rocky interior, it reacts with molecules to form minerals, releasing hydrogen in the process.
Oxygen comes from above when Jupiter’s radiation splits water molecules on the moon’s icy surface. The oxidants react with hydrogen to form water that is cycled into the ocean. If the geochemical processes explained by NASA scientists are true, Europa could be an ideal candidate for human settlement.