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Scientists found a vice that could have killed life on Jupiter's icy satellite

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
An artistic depiction of the view from icy Europe to Jupiter. Source: NASA

Jupiter's moon Europa, with a vast ocean hidden beneath its icy shell, is most likely incapable of producing enough oxygen to support life or at least life as we know it would not be able to form there.

These are the conclusions reached by scientists from Princeton University. Their work was published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.

In their work, the researchers analyzed data from the Juno spacecraft, which flew 353 kilometers above the surface of Europa in 2022. They found that oxygen is produced on the surface at a rate of about 12 kilograms per second. Previous estimates predicted a much higher level.

The formation of oxygen on Europa is due to radiation that hits the surface of the satellite and splits water ice into its constituent parts: hydrogen and oxygen. Previous models suggested that this process could produce from 5 to more than 1,000 kilograms of oxygen per second.

Jamey R. Szalay of Princeton University explains that Europe's ice shell actually serves as Europa's lungs.

At the same time, scientists can only guess how much oxygen produced in this way can get into the ocean. However, it is obvious that the less oxygen is produced on the surface, the less it will be in the ocean.

And this, in turn, is bad news for the prospect of the emergence of certain life forms in the water under the ice shell or at least those life forms that are known to mankind.

Only time will tell whether life forms other than those on Earth could have formed there. In October 2024, NASA's Europa Clipper mission is scheduled to launch, which is likely to give us some clues.

As planned, the Europa Clipper will measure the thickness of the ice on Europa and this will allow us to make more accurate assumptions about whether life-sustaining elements and compounds can penetrate it.

However, the spacecraft will arrive in Europe only in 2030.

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