Europa's Icy Crust

I posted a while ago about my thought on life in the universe. In it I gave some candidates for finding life in our own solar system (other than here on Earth). I left one out: Europa. It has been known for a while that Europa probably has a liquid salt water ocean under its surface. Although it is only the size of out moon, we believe that the ocean is about 100 miles deep. Water holds the potential for life, and Europa might have just shot to the top of the list for finding life on another world. Scientists have discovered that Europa’s ice crust is rich with oxygen, and this oxygen can be deposited in the oceans:

As ice on the base of this oxygenated crust melts, even with the most conservative assumptions, after only a half-million years oxidant levels in the ocean would reach the minimum oxygen concentration seen in Earth’s oceans, which on Earth is enough to support small crustaceans, Greenberg found. In only 12 million years, oxidant concentrations would reach the same saturation levels of Earth’s oceans, enough to support our largest sea life. Given the cold temperatures and high pressures likely seen in Europa’s ocean, it could actually take in more oxygen than Earth’s oceans could before its water reached its saturation point.

This is great news! Just because there is a possibility for life doesn’t mean we will find any there, but I’m still really excited about this.

The delay of 1 to 2 billion years before oxygen in Europa’s crust made its way into its ocean is roughly the same amount of time it took life on Earth to develop before oxygen became a problem, so life might have enough of a respite to develop on the Jovian moon. Assuming life on Europa respired at rates similar to fish on Earth, the continuous rate of oxygen delivery there could sustain roughly 3 million metric tons of life, Greenberg said.

This is something that we need to look into more, but there are no planned missions that have landers that can probe the surface of Europa, let alone melt through the ice. I have high hopes that we will find life in out solar system in the next 15 years though (wishful thinking perhaps?). Expect to be updated on any news about life elsewhere in our universe; this is a passion of mine.

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One Response to Europa!

  1. Pingback: Life with Hydrocarbons « DC Skeptics

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