Jun 20, 2019 11:23 AM EDT
In 1979, Voyager 1, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spacecraft has taken the first detailed image of the frozen moon that revolves around Jupiter known as Europa. The frozen moon is believed to be one of the most habitable worlds in the solar system.
In its first detailed images, it was revealed that Europa is almost devoid of large craters which suggests that water is regularly flooding up from inside before it resurfaces the satellite. Another feature of the moon is it crisscross long troughs, ridges, and folds. Scientists say that this is potentially made of icebergs floating around in slush or melt-water.
In 1990, the Galileo missions found evidence that the frozen moon had a liquid saltwater ocean subsurface. Many scientists believe that the water may be in contact with a rock because of its salinity. When the water is in contact with rock, It can provide energy in the water to feed microbial life.
However, these previous observations are still limited to determine how salty Europa's ocean is or what kind of salts are present.
A new study shows that the frozen moon maybe carrying normal table salt or sodium chloride. Scientists pointed out that this discovery has important implications for the potential existence of life in the hidden depths of Jupiter's moon Europa.
According to scientists, hydrothermal circulation in the ocean might naturally enrich the ocean in sodium chloride. The hydrothermal circulation is possibly driven by hydrothermal vents. The scientists believe that the chemical reaction between the ocean and the rock is producing sodium chloride. The scientists explain that hydrothermal vents are thought to be a source of life, such as bacteria, as observed on Earth. The scientists also pointed out that there are plumes emanating from the south pole of Enceladus, Saturn's moon, which has a similar ocean. Scientists added that both Europe and Enceladus have been found to contain sodium chloride.
Much like Earth and its moon, Europa is locked tidally to Jupiter. This means that Europa always presents the same side to Jupiter. Observations on the side that faces backward along its orbit has revealed the presence of "hydrated" sulfuric acid. Scientists explained that to make sulfuric acid in water ice, a source of sulfur and energy is needed to drive chemical reactions. Some postulate that this may come up from inside of the moon in the form of sulfate salt. There are also some who propose that sulfur is delivered by meteorites. However, scientists point out that the most likely explanation is that sulfur comes from Europa's volcanic moon sibling, Io.
Scientists explain that sulfur would be ejected into space from Io's volcanoes. The ejected sulfur would later make its way to the frozen moon. When the sulfur hits the backside of Europa, it would implant itself in the ice. Jupiter's radiation belt would supply the energy required for the chemical reaction.
This discovery is definitely a huge step towards exploring extraterrestrial life.
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