Jupiter’s moon Europa has a mysterious source of carbon on its surface: ScienceAlert

Carbon dioxide found on Jupiter’s moon Europa comes from the vast ocean beneath its icy shell, research using James Webb Space Telescope data revealed Thursday, raising hopes that the hidden water may harbor life.

Scientists are confident that Europa has a vast ocean of salt water several kilometers beneath its ice-covered surface, making the moon a prime candidate to host extra-terrestrial life in our solar system.

But it has been difficult to determine whether this hidden ocean contains the right chemical elements to support life.

Carbon dioxide – one of the key building blocks of life – has been found on Europa’s surface, but whether it came up from the ocean below remains an open question.

With the aim of finding answers, two US-led teams of researchers used data from the Webb Telescope’s near-infrared spectrometer to map CO.2 on the surface of Europa, publishing their results in separate studies in the journal Science,

highest CO2 The star was in an 1,800-kilometre-wide (1,120 mi) region called Regio, where there is a lot of “chaotic terrain” with jagged peaks and rifts.

What exactly causes the chaos in the area is not well understood, but one theory is that warm water from the ocean rises up to melt the surface ice, which refreezes into new uneven pieces over time. goes.

The first study used web data to see whether CO2 The down may come from somewhere other than the ocean – for example, riding on a meteorite.

Samantha Trumbo, a planetary scientist at Cornell University and lead author of the study, told AFP that she concluded that the carbon was “ultimately derived from the interior, possibly the interior ocean”.

But researchers could not rule out that the carbon came from the planet’s interior in the form of rock-like carbonate minerals, which could have broken down into CO after radiation.2,

very exciting

Table salt has also been found in Tara Regio – making the region noticeably paler than the rest of Europa’s white plains – and scientists believe it may also have come from the sea.

“So now we’ve got salt, we’ve got CO2:We’re starting to learn a little more about what the internal chemistry might look like,” Trumbo said.

Looking at the same web data, another study also indicated that “carbon is derived from within Europa”.

NASA-led researchers also expected to find plumes of water or volatile gases rising from the moon’s surface, but they failed to see anything.

Two major space missions are planning to take a closer look at Europa and its mysterious ocean.

The European Space Agency’s Jupiter moon probe Juice was launched in April, while NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is scheduled to launch in October 2024.

Juice project scientist Olivier Vitesse welcomed the two new studies, saying they were “very exciting”.

He told AFP that when Jupiter passes Europa twice in 2032, it will collect “a wealth of new information”, including about surface chemistry.

Juice will also look at two other moons of Jupiter – Ganymede and Callisto – where carbon has been detected.

Vitesse emphasized that the goal of the JUICE missions, like Europa Clipper, is to find out whether these icy moons have the right conditions to support life — they will not be able to confirm whether aliens exist.

And even if a future mission does discover life, anything capable of living in such extreme conditions under more than 10 kilometers of ice is expected to be small, such as primitive microorganisms.

© Agence France-Presse

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