A study from NASA revealed that the ocean on Europa may have a chemical balance similar to the one water has on our planet. This Earthlike water may be a sufficient condition to foster life. Europa is one of Jupiter’s moons, one of the largest moons of our solar system.
Scientists believe that the icy surface of Europa covers an ocean composed of Earthlike water. The salt composition of the water should be relatively high. However, scientific models show that Europa has great potential for producing hydrogen and oxygen.
The processes that had been studied do not include volcanism. Even so, NASA researchers believe that hydrogen and oxygen could be present in correct percentages on Europa. This makes the water on Europa comparable to water on Earth.
The right proportion of these two chemicals is believed to be one of the fundamental conditions for fostering life. Just like it is the case on Earth, scientists found that on Europa, the production of oxygen is ten times higher than the creation of oxygen.
The model used is based on how life on Earth is functioning and by taking into consideration the basic conditions needed for humans to survive. Other chemical elements of interest are carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus, all present in Europa’s ocean.
Scientists believe that water from the planet’s ocean produce a reaction when new parts of the bottom rock surface get exposed. As it happens on Earth, this chemical reaction brings with itself a release of oxygen.
Continuous cracks on the ocean’s bottom take place, as the planet is cooling off, therefore releasing more and more oxygen. On Europa, the cracks should go as deep as 15 miles into the interior.
Another type of reaction causing the release of hydrogen may happen on the surface of the ocean when water meets the icy crust from above. Radiation coming from Jupiter may split apart the ice molecules and create oxygen and other compounds. These oxidants could react with hydrogen.
It is believed that Europa has a circular movement on its surface, the upper icy layer being brought into its interior. The two processes – one at the surface of the planet’s ocean and the other on the bottom of the ocean – are believed to be essential for creating life-supporting environments.
Europa’s moon (called Io) is the most volcanic body in our solar system. This is caused by the immense gravitational force of Jupiter. Being positioned so close one to another, it is possible that Europa may also have volcanic activity – another important factor in creating a habitat for life.
Volcanic activity is no longer considered to be of paramount importance to life, as it had been discovered that fractures occur just as often when the rock is cold.
NASA is now preparing a new mission to determine if the surface of Europa may be habitable. The new spacecraft will be sent into space in the 2020s.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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