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The research team makes an exciting discovery on Jupiter’s moon Europa

The research team makes an exciting discovery on Jupiter’s moon Europa

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Jupiter’s moon Europa is icy, but there may be a habitable ocean beneath its surface. The image was taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

With the help of the James Webb Space Telescope, researchers have found an important building block for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

BALTIMORE – Jupiter’s moon Europa is considered a suitable candidate for life in the solar system, which is why NASA wants to send the Europa Clipper mission to the icy moon next year. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) operated by space organizations NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency has previously taken a look at the very interesting moon – and researchers have now been able to draw very interesting conclusions from this data.

It is clear that there is carbon dioxide in a certain area on the icy surface of Europa. The discovery of carbon is always particularly exciting for research, as carbon is the most important building block of life. Another discovery by scientists: The carbon most likely comes from the ocean under the surface of Jupiter’s moon and did not come to the surface through external sources such as meteorites.

Moon ice
An ice crust 20-30 kilometers thick, under which there is an ocean of liquid salt water
628,300,000 km
January 7, 1610
Galileo Galilei, which is why the moon is considered one of the four Galilean moons

The James Webb Space Telescope shows carbon on Jupiter’s moon Europa

“On Earth, life loves chemical diversity, and the more diversity the better. We are carbon-based life. “Understanding the chemistry of Europa’s ocean will help us determine whether it is hostile to life as we know it or whether it could be a good place for life.” , explains Jeronimo Villanueva (Goddard Space Flight Center), lead author of one of the authors of this study. studieswhich describes the results.

“We now believe we have evidence that the carbon we see on the surface of Europa comes from the ocean. This is not a trivial matter. Carbon is a biologically essential element,” adds Samantha Trumbo (Cornell University), lead author of the book. Second studywhere new “Webb” data was analyzed.

Europe has carbon dioxide and an underground ocean

The carbon dioxide on the surface of Europe is located in the Tara Reggio, a geologically young area where the ice on the surface has broken up. There is likely an exchange of materials between the subsurface ocean and the icy surface. “Previous observations by the Hubble Space Telescope have shown that the salt in Tara Reggio comes from the ocean,” Trumbo says. “Now we see that carbon dioxide is also highly concentrated there. We think this indicates that the carbon likely originated in the inland ocean.

There has been a long-standing debate in research about the extent of exchange between the subsurface ocean and the surface of Europa. “This suggests that we may be able to learn some basic things about the composition of the ocean even before we drill the ice to get a complete picture,” says study author Villanueva.

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The James Webb Space Telescope has discovered chemicals on Jupiter’s moon

Not only is the Tara Reggio region geologically recent, research suggests that carbon dioxide on Europa was deposited there “geologically recently.” There is also a second reason: carbon dioxide is unstable on the surface of Jupiter’s moon. Therefore, according to researchers, it is likely that it appeared geologically only relatively recently.

To detect carbon dioxide over Europa, both research teams used data from the Webb NIRSpec instrument. The data provided by the instrument allows researchers to identify chemicals present on the surface. “These observations require only a few minutes of telescope time,” researcher Heidi Hamel explains in one of them notice. “Even in this short time, we have been able to achieve truly great scientific work. This work provides the first indication of all the amazing research we can do in the solar system using WEB.”

NASA and ESA missions should take advantage of WEB data.

The results of the research will flow not only to NASA’s “Europa Clipper” mission, but also to the European Space Agency’s “Joyce” mission. “Juice” was launched in April 2023 to Jupiter and its large moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa, and aims to explore them through several flybys.

Research results in the specialized magazine Sciences Co-author Guillaume Croze-Merey says the published results are “a great first result of what Webb will contribute to the study of Jupiter’s moons.” “I look forward to seeing what more we can learn about their surface properties from these and future observations.” (unpaid bill)