Jupiter's moon Europa shows signs of salt water beneath its icy surface

NASA

Astronomers have believed for a number of years that Europa, one of Jupiter's most well known moons, might have a liquid ocean that could harbor life beneath its icy surface. We still don't know if life actually exists on Europa, but a new finding shows that Euopra's oceans may have a lot in common with those on Earth.

The Keck II Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii and its OSIRIS spectrometer have identified features on Europa’s surface that indicate magnesium sulfate salt is present and could potentially have formed from oxidation of a mineral that likely originated from the ocean beneath. This research helps support the hypothesis that Europa may be able to support some form of life.

Mike Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, believes the salt is actually from salt water below that rises to the surface. He says that “energy might be going into the ocean, which is important in terms of the possibilities for life there.”

According to NASA, “The magnesium sulfate appears to be generated by the irradiation of sulfur ejected from the Jovian moon Io and, the authors deduce, magnesium chloride salt originating from Europa's ocean.” The result is an underwater environment not too dissimilar from seawater here in Earth.

NASA/JPL-Caltech
An artist's conception of what astronomers believe the surface of Europa is like. Scientists think a liquid ocean flows beneath a thin layer of ice that covers the moon's surface.

"If we've learned anything about life on Earth, it's that where there's liquid water, there's generally life," said Kevin Hand of NASA.

Hand mentioned that Europa is considered an excellent target (and perhaps one day a destination?) in humanity’s search for life on other plants. "Of course our ocean is a nice, salty ocean," Hand explained. "Perhaps Europa's salty ocean is also a wonderful place for life."

[NASA]

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