Europe, one of the satellites of Jupiter, has an inland ocean beneath its icy surface “which might be able to sustain life”, a theory that has been again supported by a new model developed by scientists from the POT.
The team has also calculated that this water could have been formed by the decomposition of minerals that would have released the water, either by the forces of the tide or by a process called radioactive decay.
These results, which have not yet been reviewed by other experts, but which may have implications for other moons in the Solar system, have been presented at the Goldschmidt Conference, the main annual international meeting on geochemistry and that this year is being held virtually.
Europe It has a diameter of 3 thousand 100 kilometers, a little smaller than that of our Moon, and orbits Jupiter about 780 million km from the Sun. Its surface temperature never exceeds -160 degrees Celsius, but that of its underground ocean is not yet known.
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It is one of the largest moons in the Solar System and since the Voyager and Galileo probes flew over it, scientists have argued that the icy surface crust floats in an underground ocean, the origin and composition of which are unclear.
Using data from the Galileo mission, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory modeled geochemical deposits in the interior of Europe.
Lead researcher Mohit Melwani Daswani explains, in a statement, that they modeled the composition and physical properties of the core, the silicate layer, and the ocean.
As a result, the team discovered that different minerals lose water and volatile material at different depths and temperatures.
“We added these volatile components that are estimated to have been lost from the interior (of the satellite), and we saw that they are consistent with the predicted mass of the current ocean, which means that they are probably present in the ocean,” added the expert.
Oceans such as that of the interior of Europe may have been formed by metamorphism, that is, that the warming and the increase in pressure caused by the early radioactive decomposition or the subsequent movement of the subsurface tides would cause the decomposition of the minerals that contain water and your release.
Europe’s underground ocean may have been “slightly acidic, with high concentrations of carbon dioxide, calcium and sulfate,” the data indicates.
In fact, it was thought that “it could still be quite sulfuric”, but the new simulations, together with data from the hubble space telescope they show the presence of chloride on the surface of Europe, suggesting that “very likely” the water became rich in that substance.
In other words, Melwani points out, “its composition became more similar to that of Earth’s oceans. We believe that this ocean may be quite habitable for life.”
This moon of Jupiter is “one of our best opportunities to find life in our Solar System,” says the expert, who recalls that the Europa Clipper mission, which NASA will launch in a few years, aims to investigate the habitability of the satellite.
The model created by the team leads them to think that the oceans of other moons, such as Ganymede – a neighbor of Europe – or Titan – Saturn’s satellite – may also have been formed by similar processes, but there are still aspects to understand, among them the how fluids migrate through the rocky interior of Europe. ”