Europa’s underground oceans are said to have carbon necessary for life. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope identified Carbon dioxide on Europa’s surface, most likely in the vast ocean
Source: Scenario for getting water to Europa’s surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The smallest and the second nearest of the four large moons of Jupiter, Europa was discovered by Galileo in 1610. Also known as Jupiter II, it was named Europa after the same name from Greek mythology by Simon Marius. Made of silicate rock and with water ice crust along with an iron-nickel core. The Europa has a diameter of 3,310 km and a density of 3 grams per cubic centimetre. It also orbits around Jupiter at 617000 km. In 1972, by a telescope, the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tuscon observed water ice on Europa’s surface. It has the smoothest surface of any known solid object in the Solar system. Though, to date no spacecraft has yet landed on Europa but many missions have taken place for the same. NASA’s Europa Clipper is expected to be launched in October 2024.
Source: Europa in true colour, with its surface predominantly white. Imaged on 29 September 2022 by the Juno spacecraft.
Source: NASA/Ted Stryk/Edited by The Planetary Society
Carbon identified on Europa’s surface
Has one ever thought of life beyond Earth? It is not wrong to say that life on Earth would be impossible without the presence of Carbon due to carbon’s ability to readily form bonds with other atoms, giving flexibility to the form and function that biomolecules can take, such as DNA and RNA, which are essential for the defining characteristics of life: growth and replication. It is the of all life on Earth. Without it, life would simply not exist.
The James Webb Space Telescope found carbon dioxide on Europa’s surface and is likely originated in the moon’s vast ocean. “On Earth, life likes chemical diversity – the more diversity, the better. We’re carbon-based life. Understanding the chemistry of Europa’s ocean will help us determine whether it’s hostile to life as we know it, or if it might be a good place for life,” said Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of one of two independent papers describing the findings. “We now think that we have observational evidence that the carbon we see on Europa’s surface came from the ocean. That’s not a trivial thing. Carbon is a biologically essential element,” added Samantha Trumbo of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, lead author of the second paper analyzing these data. Although, in general, the findings do not give us a clear view that life exists in Europa but there’s a hope that it may be possible. “This is a big deal and I am very excited by it,” said Dr Christopher Glein, a geochemist at Southwest Research Institute, in Texas, US, and co-author. “We don’t know yet if life is actually present in Europa’s ocean. But this new finding adds evidence to the case that Europa’s ocean would be a good bet for hosting extant life. That environment looks tantalising from the perspective of astrobiology.” Earlier findings showed that dry Carbon dioxide was present in the ice form in Europa but there were chances of it being deposited there by meteorites. The recent studies though, has significantly angled towards the presence of Carbon dioxide in the moon’s ocean. “The discovery of carbon dioxide in salt-rich regions of Europa’s ice shell indicates that the CO2 is coming from the ocean below and not from outside sources, such as meteorites and ions bombarding Europa,” said Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author. NASA’s upcoming Mission ‘Europa Clipper’ is all set to be launched in 2024 to get a more closer look at Europa and it’s mysterious ocean.