Subsurface ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa deemed potentially 'habitable'

Pablo Tucker
June 28, 2020

Researchers at NASA believe the subsurface ocean on the moon Europa of Jupiter could be habitable for life.

The vast salty ocean inside Jupiter's moon Europa "contains all the ingredients for life", suggesting that aliens could be living below its icy crust, a study has found.

Dr. Mohit Melwani Daswani and Dr. Steven Vance from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory modeled geochemical reservoirs within the interior of Europa using data from NASA's Galileo mission.

"So we were able to model not only the composition but also specific physical properties of the nucleus, the ocean and the silicate layer".

Europa Could Actually Be The Best Place to Look For Alien Life in Our Solar System

Europa's ocean may have formed after water-rich minerals ejected their water thanks to heating caused by the decay of radioactive elements in its interior early in its history, the researchers found. The researchers arrived at curious estimates suggesting that processes such as radioactive decay or tidal forces could have brought about sufficient heat to allow for liquid water on the icy moon, where surface temperatures never exceed about -140 degrees Celsius (-225 degrees Fahrenheit).

They added that the ocean would "have been mildly acidic, with high concentrations of carbon dioxide, calcium and sulphate", before getting "chloride rich". They used data from the Galileo mission and the Hubble telescope to create a new model of Europe.

'Our models lead us to think that the oceans in other moons, such as Europa's neighbour Ganymede, and Saturn's moon Titan, may also have formed by similar processes'.

"We continue to have to have to have an understanding of a number of details even though, these kinds of as how fluids migrate via Europa's rocky inside".


The authors presented their results today at the 2020 Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference.

The study evaluated whether Europa was previously habitable and did not examine its present habitability, a question the researchers are now exploring.

"Europa is one of our best chances of finding life in our Solar System".

Dr Daswani said: "Indeed it was thought this ocean could still be rather sulphuric".


Europa has some key features suspected to be necessary for a habitable world, Daswani told Space.com in an interview.

The bulk of the new research, which came around as NASA famously started preparing to launch a mission to Europa in 2024, was primarily focused on finding where the liquid could have originated. "Arguably, icy moons lack this ability, so this needs to be tested on any future mission to Europa".

It is incredibly distant from Earth, with a shocking 628.3 million km between Earth and the moon.

Europa orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days and is tidally locked - just like Earth's Moon - so that the same side of Europa faces Jupiter at all times. Held annually, it covers such material as climate change, astrobiology, planetary and stellar development and conditions, chemistry of Earth materials, pollution, the undersea environment, volcanoes, and many other subjects.


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