According to NASA, there is a significant possibility that Europa, one of Jupiter’s 67 moons, is capable of sustaining life. Europa’s surface is coated with ice, but scientists believe a massive, saltwater ocean below that surface.
New evidence has emerged suggesting that that ocean contains “the necessary balance of chemical energy for life,” even if it lacks volcanic hydrothermal activity.
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, believe that Europa has the potential ability to produce a similar ratio of hydrogen and oxygen as Earth. Both Europa and Earth produce 10 times as much oxygen as hydrogen, according to NASA.
“We’re studying an alien ocean using methods developed to understand the movement of energy and nutrients in Earth’s own systems. The cycling of oxygen and hydrogen in Europa’s ocean will be a major driver for Europa’s ocean chemistry and any life there, just as it is on Earth,” said Steve Vance, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“The oxidants from the ice are like the positive terminal of a battery, and the chemicals from the seafloor, called reductants, are like the negative terminal,” added JPL planetary scientist Kevin Hand. “Whether or not life and biological processes complete the circuit is part of what motivates our exploration of Europa.”
Scientists are eager to gather more evidence as to whether or not the icy moon is or is at least capable of supporting life. NASA plans on sending a radiation-tolerant spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter to take high-resolution pictures of Europa for further research.