For centuries, man has looked to the sky and wondered if it’s truly alone in this vast universe and if it’s possible to sustain human life on planets other than our own. Sincere efforts are being made to answer these questions and as humans try to camp out on Mars, research continues into planets far away from Earth and their potential to harbor life. A NASA study has found that Jupiter’s Europa moon could have the right chemical balance needed to support life.
The NASA study found that Europa has ratios of hydrogen and oxygen production similar to those on Earth. These are the core building blocks of life and are thus instrumental in any effort to take life beyond our planet.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory conducted this study and its theory is based on the ocean of liquid water which is present under Europa’s icy shell.
The team estimated the ratio of chemical production on this moon by looking at how much hydrogen could be produced when the ocean’s salty water reacts with rock, this process is called serpentinization.
This process takes place on Earth as well, in it the water is filtered through minerals and it reacts with rocks to form new minerals while hydrogen is created as a byproduct. The team used complex models to ascertain how the cracks in Europa’s sea floor have expanded over time, enabling them to predict how much fresh rock is available for serpentinization.
Estimates for the production of oxygen were made by studying the planet’s surface. Researchers came to the conclusion that radiation from Jupiter could split the ice molecules and thus release oxygen into the ocean. During their research the team found that oxygen production is likely ten times more than hydrogen production, coming to a ratio that’s similar to what it is on Earth.
NASA is determined to launch a mission to Europa to find out more about the icy moon by using a probe to take high-resolution images of the surface. The mission isn’t expected to take off before the 2020s.