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Why Scientists Think There Could Be Life on Europa

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Photo credit: NASA / Jet Propulsion Lab-Caltech / SETI Institute, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

As David Coppedge noted here yesterday, astrobiologists look to Jupiter’s moon Europa as a place where life could potentially exist. Why? Recent evidence suggests that Europa’s icy shell may have pockets of liquid water:

“Because it’s closer to the surface, where you get interesting chemicals from space, other moons, and the volcanoes of Io, there’s a possibility that life has a shot if there are pockets of water in the shell,” says study author Dustin Schroeder, a geophysics expert at Stanford University in a statement. “If the mechanism we see in Greenland is how these things happen on Europa, it suggests there’s water everywhere.”

ELIZABETH GAMILLO, “EUROPA’S ICY SHELL MAY BE HABITABLE FOR LIFE” AT SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE (APRIL 20, 2022); THE PAPER IS OPEN ACCESS.

NASA has noted the likely presence of organic chemicals as well:

For Europa to be potentially habitable, it would need to have the essential chemical ingredients for the chemistry of life. These include carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur, which are common elements, and scientists think it’s likely they were present on Europa as it formed. Later on, asteroids and comets impacted the moon and would have deposited even more organic, or carbon containing, materials.

WHY EUROPA/INGREDIENTS FOR LIFE” AT EUROPA CLIPPER/NASA.

What about energy?

Where would life on an icy world far from the Sun get energy? The type of life that might inhabit Europa likely would not be powered by photosynthesis — but by chemical reactions.

Europa’s surface is blasted by radiation from Jupiter. That’s a bad thing for life on the surface — it couldn’t survive. But the radiation may create fuel for life in an ocean below the surface. 

WHY EUROPA/INGREDIENTS FOR LIFE” AT EUROPA CLIPPER/NASA

Unlike Ganymede and Callisto

Elsewhere, NASA notes, “In contrast to Ganymede and Callisto, Europa’s ocean is also probably in direct contact with warm rock at the seafloor. That interaction could supply hydrogen and other chemicals to the ocean. While the energy input for life on Earth comes primarily from the Sun, Europa’s energy input might come from surface chemistry and water-rock interactions on the seafloor.”

NASA has flown a number of spacecraft past Europa, gathering data, and is now readying the Europa Clipper, with a projected launch date of October 2024, for detailed reconnaissance flyby of the promising moon.

Read the rest at Mind Matters News, published by Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.