Jupiter’s satellite “Europa” Has an Oxygen-Rich Ocean Very Similar to Earth..?
Jupiter’s natural satellite Europa is a major candidate in the search for extraterrestrial life. This frozen moon has a surface ocean that, as evidence indicates, is warm, salty, and rich in essential chemicals for life.
New research indicates that Europa receives oxygen from the bottom of the icy crust, where it may feed even the simplest forms of life.
It is highly debatable whether Europa can sustain life in the surface ocean; This debate will remain neutral until NASA sends a Europa Clipper probe there in the coming years.
Europa’s mission must be carefully handled; NASA designs it so that the spacecraft can answer the questions that scientists have. It is impossible to send a ship to Europa and just instruct it to find life.
NASA’s goal is to answer big questions, but missions can only answer small, specific questions. Consequently, scientists are studying various aspects of Europa and conducting simulations to further clarify the questions that the mission should ask.
One of the hearts of these questions is oxygen. It may be the final part of Europa’s vision.
Europa has, or at least we think so, most of the things needed for self-sufficiency in life. Water is the primary ingredient and indeed, Europa has abundant water in the surface ocean. Moreover, Europa has more water than the earth.
This moon also has other necessary chemical nutrients. Life needs energy, and Europa’s source of energy is gravitational bending by Jupiter, which heats its entrails and protects the oceans from freezing. For most scientists, these are already well-proven facts.
Ice Europa also has oxygen on its surface, another intriguing sign of vitality. Oxygen is generated when sunlight and charged particles from Jupiter hit its surface.
But there is one problem: Europa’s thick layer of ice is a barrier between oxygen and the ocean. Europa’s surface is solid ice and therefore any form of life can only exist in its vast ocean.
How can oxygen get from the surface to the ocean?
According to a new study, brackish water lakes in Europa’s ice sheet can carry oxygen from the surface to the ocean.
These brackish ponds form in areas where ice melts due to the convective currents of the ocean. Europa’s famous “Chaos Relief” emerges on top of these lakes.
This chaotic terrain covers about 25 percent of Europa’s ice surface. It is where ridges, cracks, crevices, and plains come together.
The exact cause of such relief is unknown, but is likely to be related to uneven surface heat and melting. These are the most beautiful creations in the photos of Europa celebrities.
According to scientists, the thickness of the ice cover in Europa is 15-25 kilometers. According to a 2011 study, Europa’s chaotic terrain may be located on top of vast lakes of liquid water that should be submerged in ice at a depth of just 3 kilometers.
These lakes are not directly connected to the surface ocean, but may sink into them. According to a new study, brackish lakes can mix with surface oxygen and over time, downstream, release large amounts of this gas into the surface ocean.
“Our research places this process in the realm of possibilities. “It’s a solution to one of Europa’s biggest problems with surface life,” said Mark Hess, a professor at the University of Texas Jackson School of Earth Sciences.
In their own simulation, the researchers showed how oxygen moves through the ice.
Oxygen-laden brine enters the surface ocean through pores. The pores should open instantly and close again quickly. For thousands of years, this way oxygen-rich brine is found in the ocean.
The connection between chaotic terrain and oxygen transport is not entirely clear. However, scientists think that the convective uplift (rising of the lower layers of water to the surface) caused by tidal heating should partially melt the ice, which manifests itself in the form of chaotic relief on the surface. Ice under brine must be thawed or partially thawed to allow oxygen-rich brine to sink into the ocean.
“In order for this brine to leak, the ice beneath it must be conductive, that is, partially melted. “As previous studies have shown, rotational heating in Europa should raise the temperature of water above the convective part of the ice sheet to the melting point of pure ice,” the study authors wrote.
According to them, since the chaotic relief is likely to be the result of diapiric uplifts, it is entirely possible that the ice beneath is partially melted. The presence of table salt (NaCl) in the binding ice is likely to further enhance melting.
The surface of Europa is severely cold, but not so cold as to re-freeze so rapidly that oxygen cannot move into the brine. Temperatures at the poles of Europa never rise above -220 degrees Celsius.
However, the model results show that the re-freezing process on the surface is too slow to stop the brine from leaking and to prevent oxygen from entering the ocean.
Although the surface of Europa is solid ice, the ice beneath it is convective, which delays freezing. Some research also suggests that the seabed may be volcanic.
According to a new study, 86 percent of Europa’s surface oxygen is finally absorbed by the ocean. Throughout the history of this moon, this percentage may have varied greatly.
However, the highest rating produced by the researchers model paints an oxygen-rich ocean that looks very much like Earth. Can anything survive under the ice?
“It’s very tempting to think of any aerobic organism living under the ice,” said study co-author Stephen Vance.
Kevin Hand is one of the scientists who is very interested in Europa, its vital potential and future mission Europa Clipper. He is a NASA / JPL scientist whose research focuses on Europa. He hopes that Hess and his colleagues have solved the oxygen problem in this icy moon ocean.
“We know that Europa has the necessary compounds on the surface, such as oxygen, but does it find them down in the ocean, where they can be used by life? “The work of Hess and his colleagues shows that the answer to that question must be yes.”
What questions can the Europa Clipper ask to confirm these findings?
Clipper will be the first mission specifically sent to Europa. We thought we knew a lot about Europa, but we could not confirm it until now. The mission has three main goals:
Study the composition of the ocean to determine if it has the compounds necessary for life.
Study geology in Europa to find out how its surface was formed, including the chaotic terrain.
Determine the thickness of the ice sheet and determine if there is liquid water in it. It must also determine how the ocean interacts with the surface: does it reach anything from the ocean to and above it? Does any material from the surface fall down into the ocean?
The probe will work with ten tools to answer these questions. We will not have to wait long. The Europa Clipper will be launched in October 2024 and will enter the Jupiter system in 5.5 years. After that, the scientific phase will last for at least four years. That is, by 2034, we will have answers to many questions about Europa.
The research was published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Prepared according to Universe Today.