Simulations by scientists at the U.S. space agency NASA suggest that the subterranean ocean of icy Europa, one of Jupiter’s four largest moons, will be able to harbor life, it was released Wednesday.
The results of the work, not yet published, were presented at the Goldschmidt conference, considered the main conference on geochemistry, promoted by the Geochemistry Society in the United States and the European Geochemistry Association. This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the initiative takes place from a distance, ending on Friday.
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California were given data from the Galileo probe (which was orbiting Jupiter between 1995 and 2003) and created geochemical models of water reservoirs in the interior of Europa, the sixth largest moon in the Solar System (but slightly smaller than the Earth’s Moon) and which will have an ocean beneath its surface ice layer.
According to scientists, the simulations, combined later with data collected from the Hubble space telescope in Earth’s orbit 30 years ago, reveal that europa’s surface will have chloride, indicating that groundwater on Jupiter’s moon will most likely be equally rich in chloride, the mineral in the highest concentration in earth’s ocean water.
“We think this ocean (of Europe) can be habitable for life,” said the researcher who led the study, Mohit Melwani Daswani, quoted in a statement by the Goldschmidt conference organization. ??????????
The study suggests that europa’s ocean was, at first, moderately acidic, with high concentrations of carbon dioxide, calcium and sulfate (which are also dissolved in the Earth’s oceans).
The NASA team will now go with research groups in Nantes, France, and Prague in the Czech Republic, to try to gauge whether underwater volcanoes may have contributed to the evolution of water composition in Europe, making it rich in chloride.
Scientists argue, after having made a model for the composition and physical properties of the core, the rocky inner layer and the ocean of Europa, that different minerals lose water and volatile to various depths and temperatures.
The ocean of Jupiter’s moon, discovered by astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610, will have formed from the decomposition of minerals containing water, due to tidal forces or radioactive disintegration (a phenomenon of transformation of one atom into another by emitting radiation from its unstable nucleus), the study authors maintain.
According to NASA scientists, who want to send into space, as yet undefined, a probe to study Europa in detail, the models suggest that the oceans of Ganymede, another of Jupiter’s four largest moons, and Saturn’s moon Titan, may have formed through similar processes.
The moon Europa orbits Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, about 780 million kilometres away from the Sun. The temperature on its surface does not exceed -160ºC, not knowing the water temperature of its ocean.