The carbon dioxide detected on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, comes from an ocean beneath the thick layer of ice, according to data from the James Webb Telescope, raising hopes that this water could support life.
Scientists are convinced that a vast saltwater ocean lies dozens of kilometers below Europa’s icy surface, making this moon an ideal candidate to harbor extraterrestrial life in our solar system.
Despite data from the James Webb Space Telescope, it is difficult to determine whether this hidden ocean contains the chemical elements needed for life to arise.
On the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa, Webb discovered carbon dioxide that likely originated in the liquid water ocean below. Understanding the chemistry of this ocean can help determine whether it is a good place for life as we know it: https://t.co/tGLrJrVsyl pic.twitter.com/4C4JjZMCBw
– NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) September 21, 2023
Carbon dioxide (CO2), which, along with liquid water, is one of the essential elements of this process, has already been detected on Europa’s surface, but its source has not been determined.
For this discovery, two teams of researchers in North America used data from the James Webb Space Telescope, collected through the infrared observing instrument.
Scientists have been able to map Europa’s surface, according to two studies published Thursday in the journal Science.
Breaking space news!
NASA/ESA/CSA James #Web A space telescope has detected carbon dioxide on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.
The analysis indicates that this carbon likely originated in Europa’s subsurface ocean and was not delivered from other external sources. pic.twitter.com/PlYXj8pCqD
– European Space Agency (@esa) September 21, 2023
The largest amount of carbon dioxide is found in an area 1,800 km wide called Tara Reggio.
The first study used information from the James Webb Telescope to determine whether the carbon dioxide could have come from somewhere else, such as a meteorite.
Planetary scientist at Cornell University and lead author of the study, Samantha Trumbo, told AFP that the conclusion is that the carbon “ultimately comes from the interior, perhaps from the inner ocean of the moon.”
In the Taja Reggio region, scientists have also discovered the equivalent of table salt, making this area yellower than the rest of the white plains of Jupiter’s moon, and this element may also have come out of the ocean.
“Now we have carbon dioxide and salt: we are starting to learn more about the internal chemistry.” From Europe, the world’s spotlight.
Using the same data as James Webb, the second study also concluded that “carbon comes from within Europe.”
Europa is one of Jupiter’s three icy moons, and the target of two major space missions that must determine whether its murky surroundings are suitable for life to emerge.
ESA’s Goss probe launched last April, and NASA’s Europa Clipper is expected to launch in October 2024.
It will take eight years to reach Jupiter, the giant of the solar system, and its large moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto), which were discovered by Galileo in 1610.
Olivier Whitasse, scientific director of the European Space Agency’s Juice project, considers the analyzes conducted by the James Webb Telescope “very interesting.”
“It allows us to learn more about this ocean, which is located deep within the ice and therefore inaccessible in the current state of space exploration.”He explained to Agence France-Presse.
The Juice probe will also examine Ganymede, which also includes a subglacial ocean where carbon was discovered.
Olivier Whitassy stressed that these two missions will not be able to directly find extraterrestrial life, but only determine the conditions that favor its emergence, remembering that in such a harsh environment, only primitive life forms, such as bacteria, can exist.
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