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Life Can Exist On Jupiter’s Moon Europa, Say NASA Scientists

Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, might really contain life in its icy oceans, suggests new study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

By NASA/JPL/DLR - http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00502 (TIFF image link), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92698

Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon, in approximate natural colour. The dark lines represent fractures in the crust. Photo credits: NASA/JPL/DLR, via Wikimedia Commons.

Finding life beyond our planet has remained an exciting endeavour. However, it might be considered ironic that humans, instead of caring for the life blooming or suffering here, are aiming at the impossible. But, then, the curiosity and ambition of man cannot be contained on Earth only. So, as much as technology has allowed, scientists have always tried to answer this question: is their life elsewhere in our universe?

One of the potential candidates to host life is one of the 67 moons of Jupiter known as Europa. Because of indications of the presence of deep, salt-rich oceans underneath its icy crust, NASA has described it as “the most likely place to find life in our Solar System today”. The new study focuses on the chemistry of these oceans. The research team has analysed the ocean via methods used to measure the flow of energy and nutrients in systems on Earth. According to the scientists, the chemical composition thereof would bear close resemblance to our oceans. This would mean that Europa oceans would contain hydrogen and oxygen in the ideal proportions such that life could be sustained; this would even be possible in the absence of volcanic activity. Lead author, Steve Vance from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), explains that the cycling of the two gases will fuel ocean chemistry and life that might be present there as it does on our planet.

This conclusion was reached after Vance’s team looked into processes not involving volcanism to find out if they can support the formation of life; volcanic activity is otherwise considered to be a trigger for the development of life. Their resulting calculations based on the passive processes showed that this was very much possible: the oxygen proportion is about 10 times more than hydrogen production, as it is on Earth, and the quantities of the two are comparable on both the Earth and Europa.

Furthermore, hydrogen formation might be similar on the two worlds as well. On our planet, hydrogen is the resulting product of the reaction between seawater and minerals in the cracks of the crust of the Earth. The same thing might be happening on Europa. The latter might be having cracks in its rocky inner layer, and these fractures might be even deeper than ours. This would provide plenty of opportunities for the seawater to seep into them to produce hydrogen.

As for the oxygen formation, it could be brought about by the effect of cosmic radiation on frozen water on the ocean’s surface.

If hydrogen and oxygen are thus present, life might actually not be a far-fetched idea.

To find out more, NASA has a mission scheduled for the next decade to explore the moon. A probe might be sent to glean more data.

It is to be noted that we currently have not confirmed whether the oceans themselves exist. So, this research can only be confirmed if concrete data is found.


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