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If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to know if there’s extraterrestrial life on Europa, this latest study into the Jovian moon’s icy crust should whet your appetite.
Using data from the powerful Keck II Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawai’i, astronomers Mike Brown, of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and Kevin Hand, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), have found strong evidence that suggests chemicals from Europa’s sub-surface ocean are leaking to the surface. In turn, chemicals from the surface are likely cycling into the ocean too. The research has been published in the Astrophysical Journal.
This discovery is profound when considering the live-giving potential of Jupiter’s largest moon — it is further proof that the sub-surface ocean isn’t cut off from the surface; chemicals are cycling into the ocean, potentially supporting a hypothetical Europan biosphere.
Astronomer Mike Brown*—discoverer of the giant outer-solar-system iceball Eris which is what started the machinery that kicked Pluto out of the planet club—has found some pretty strong evidence that Jupiter’s moon Europa has sprung a leak. Its undersurface ocean may be mixing with the icy surface, making it possible to understand its composition without having to dig down through dozens of kilometers of solid ice.
And why is this so very cool? Well, it means that if we want to find out what the ocean under Europa is made of, we don’t have to punch a hole through kilometers of ice (some missions have been proposed to do just that). All we have to do is either aim better telescopes at the surface, or send more sophisticated probes to do the same. Digging would be better, of course, but may not be so urgent.