James Webb Space Telescope discovers carbon dioxide on Jupiter’s moon Europa. technology news

The James Webb Space Telescope has found evidence of carbon dioxide on Jupiter’s moon Europa, long considered a potential host for extraterrestrial life.

An image of Jupiter's moon Europa created using photographs taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s.An image of Jupiter’s moon Europa created using photographs taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

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The James Webb Space Telescope has helped make another important discovery – astronomers have identified carbon dioxide in a region on the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa using data from the telescope.

Carbon is an essential component of life as we know it. This means that the latest web discovery may be an important step in the search for life. According to the European Space Agency, the researchers’ analysis indicates that the carbon they detected likely originated in an ocean beneath Europa’s surface, and not from external sources such as meteorites.

Two studies published in journal Science indicate that carbon dioxide is most abundant in a region of Europa called Tara Regio. The area is geologically young and consists of regenerated terrain known as “chaotic terrain”. Here, the surface ice has broken up, and material has probably been exchanged between the subsurface ocean and the icy surface.

According to Samantha Trumbo, lead author of the second paper analyzing the data, previous observations made using the Hubble telescope have found evidence of ocean-derived salt in Tara Regio. Now that the presence of carbon dioxide has been established, it could mean that it came from the interior ocean.

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Europa has long been thought of as a possible place that hosts extraterrestrial life in our solar system. In fact, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is considering a mission that would send a swarm of cellphone-sized robots that could search for alien life by swimming in the water beneath the kilometer-thick icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

But that “cryobot” mission is probably a long way off, assuming it ever becomes a reality.

The US space agency’s Europa Clipper mission, however, is scheduled to launch in 2024. The mission will conduct several flybys of Europa to gather detailed data with a large array of instruments when it arrives there in 2030. The discovery of carbon dioxide on Jupiter’s moons could change the parameters of Clipper and other missions.

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First published: On 26-09-2023 14:26 IST

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