Astronomers Discover Carbon Dioxide on the Surface of Europa
Scientists have discovered a source of carbon dioxide on the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa using data provided by the James Webb telescope.
This is reported by Universe Today.
Despite most planets in the solar system being considered lifeless and unsuitable for life, some of them still show signs of potential habitability. Europa, the largest moon of Jupiter, is one such celestial body.
During the research, the JWST telescope detected a significant amount of carbon dioxide gas concentrated in a specific area on the moon's surface called Tara Regio, known for its chaotic terrain.
Observations from the telescope suggest that the carbon dioxide gas likely originates from a massive subsurface saltwater ocean beneath a 10-mile layer of ice. This ocean spans approximately 3,000 kilometers of the planet's surface.
"Furthermore, it was deposited relatively recently in geological terms. This discovery has important implications for the potential habitability of Europa's ocean," according to NASA's statement.
However, the presence of carbon dioxide gas on Europa's surface does not necessarily mean there is life on the planet, as it has not been proven that carbon is directly present in the moon's subsurface ocean.
The gas could have reached Europa's surface through external means, such as meteorite impacts. If this is the case, it would imply that the ocean lacks carbon dioxide.
“We don’t know yet if life is actually present in Europa’s ocean. But this new finding adds evidence to the case that Europa’s ocean would be a good bet for hosting extant life. That environment looks tantalising from the perspective of astrobiology”,- says Dr Christopher Glaine, a geochemist at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas, USA.
Meanwhile, scientists are paying particular attention to the region where the gas was found. Chaotic terrain refers to an area with ridges, cracks, uplifts, and smooth patches that are randomly mixed. Researchers believe that this chaotic terrain could allow for the movement of diverse materials between the surface and the ocean, making the theory of carbon originating from the ocean more likely.
"At present, we believe we have evidence that the carbon we see on Europa's surface comes from the ocean. This is not a trivial matter. Carbon is a biologically important element," added Samantha Trambo from Cornell University.
Carbon is an extremely vital element for life as it readily forms bonds with various other types of atoms. At the same time, it requires diverse chemical substances to form a wider range of molecules.
"On Earth, life loves chemical diversity - the more diversity, the better. We are carbon-based life. Understanding the chemical composition of the European Ocean will help us determine whether it is hostile to life as we know it or whether it can be a good place to live," said Geronimo Villanueva of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.
It is worth recalling that earlier scientists used the Webb Space Telescope to explore the exoplanet Hycean K2-18 b, which could potentially host life.