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Is Jupiter's moon Europa less habitable than expected?

Is Jupiter's moon Europa less habitable than expected?

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Jupiter's moon Europa is considered a potential home for life in the solar system. An important building block for this is produced less frequently than previously assumed.

Washington, DC – NASA's Juno probe is in close contact. Only 354 kilometers separate the space probe from Jupiter's moon Europa on September 29, 2022. During Juno's flyby, it revealed a number of secrets of the icy moon. This includes the amount of oxygen produced on Europa's surface. This would be an important indicator of whether life could actually exist on Jupiter's satellite, as researchers suspect. Nearly a year and a half later, this data is now available – a result that may be disappointing to many.

Jupiter's moon Europa produces 12 kilograms of oxygen per second, which is less than expected

Scientists on the Juno mission have calculated that much less oxygen is actually produced on Europa than previously assumed. She has it NASA Announced on Monday (March 4). The US Space Agency refers to a study conducted on the same day Nature.com Has been published.

Jupiter's moon Europa is considered a suitable candidate for life in the solar system. Researchers have now discovered that less oxygen is produced there than previously thought. (Archive photo) © IMAGO/Cover Images

The study's authors estimate that about 12 kilograms of oxygen per second are produced on Europa's surface. Previous estimates ranged from a few kilograms to more than 1,000 kilograms per second. Extrapolated, Jupiter's ice-covered moon produces 1,000 tons of oxygen per day, enough for a million people.

Particles from Jupiter split water molecules on Europa and produce oxygen

The fourth largest of Jupiter's 95 known moons lies exactly in the middle of its radiation belt. Charged or ionized particles from the gaseous planet collide with Europa's icy surface and split water molecules in two, creating oxygen.

“Europe is like a snowball that is slowly losing water in a flowing stream,” says scientist Jami Szalay of Princeton University in New Jersey. Molecule by molecule, Jupiter's molecules break up the water ice on Europa's surface and produce water and oxygen there. “In a sense, the entire ice shell is constantly being eroded by waves of charged particles sweeping it away.”

A huge ocean is said to lie under Jupiter's moon Europa – home to life?

Europa has long been considered a possible home for life in the solar system. This assumption is due to the fact that the Moon only appears at first glance to be a huge ball of ice. But previous space probe measurements have already indicated an ocean of liquid salt water beneath an ice crust 20 to 30 kilometers thick. Extraterrestrial life could be at home here.

A few months ago, researchers also discovered carbon on the surface of Europa. Carbon is the most important building block for life, and may come from Europe's subterranean ocean, scientists suspect.

Oxygen from the moon's surface could take the opposite direction. NASA believes that some of the oxygen produced could reach the lunar surface and be a potential source of metabolic energy in the ocean.

The Europa Clipper and Juice spacecraft also fly to Jupiter and its moons

The question of whether or not Europa is habitable will continue to concern space organizations around the world. “We're not done yet. There's still more to come from the flyby and the first exploration of Jupiter's narrow ring and polar atmosphere,” said Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

When NASA's Europa Clipper mission launches to Jupiter later this year, it will, among other things, examine Europa's oxygen production. The European Space Agency's (ESA) “Joyce” space probe has already been launched. In addition to Europa, Jupiter is visited by the moons Callisto and Ganymede, which are also suspected to have subsurface oceans. The topic here again: Are there suitable conditions for life near Jupiter or inside the three moons? (Florian Neuroth)