If you were to ask a betting astronomer where we will find life in the Solar System, they would almost certainly put their fund on Europa, the icy spacecraft of Jupiter. And according to the latest analyze, the odds are very much in their favor.
Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory( JPL) in Pasadena, California have looked at the health risks chemistry of Europas subsurface ocean, and they found that the Jovian moon’s production of oxygen and hydrogen is comparable to Earths, with oxygen production being 10 times higher than hydrogen production.
Hydrogen would form by reactions on the seafloor between the salt water and the boulder. The bottom of the ocean is likely cracked, and as the water penetrates the stones, it dissolves minerals and releases positive hydrogen ions.
Oxygen, and other products that they are able respond with hydrogen, form on the surface from the radiation emitted by Jupiter thatbreaks apart the water-ice molecules, making negative ions underneath Europas icy exterior.
The oxidants from the ice are like the positive terminal of a battery, and the chemicals from the seafloor, called reductants, are like the negative terminal, told Kevin Hand, co-author of such studies, in a statement.
Whether or not life and biological processes complete the circuit is part of what motivates our exploration of Europa.
The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, indicates another interesting fact: Europa doesnt necessitate volcanism to be a habitable environment. Cold stones fracture more easily so that more hydrogen is produced. If instead the interior of the planet is hot, minerals from hydrothermal vents interact with the oxidants from the surface. In either scenariothe ocean could be habitable.
Were examining an alien ocean use methods developed to understand the movement of energy and nutrients in Earths own systems, added lead writer Steve Vance.The cycling of oxygen and hydrogen in Europas ocean will be a major driver for Europas ocean chemistry and any life there, just as it is on Earth.
NASA is currently formulating proposals for missions to Europa, so the truth about this curious moon might come sooner than we think.
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