Jupiter's moon Europa may have an ocean with an Earth-like balance of chemical energy, a new study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has found.
The findings suggest that chemical balance needed to support life could be present on the said moon, even with the absence of volcanic hydrothermal mechanisms.
The study particularly looked at the hydrogen and oxygen levels of Europa and compared it with those of Earth's. The balance of these two chemicals is said to be vital in determining whether or not life could exist. The amounts of the chemicals were found to be at similar levels, with the generation of oxygen about 10 times higher than hydrogen.
"The cycling of oxygen and hydrogen in Europa's ocean will be a major driver for Europa's ocean chemistry and any life there, just as it is on Earth," says NASA's Steve Vance.
Hydrogen On Europa And On Earth
For the hydrogen study, the team looked into how much hydrogen could be generated in the moon's ocean as seawater interacts with rock. In this mechanism, water seeps between grains of mineral and produces new minerals, resulting in the release of hydrogen.
The researchers studied how cracks on the Europa's seafloor probably open up as time passes. The new fissures expose rock to seawater, which will then lead to more hydrogen production.
In the crust of the Earth, such cracks are believed to go as deep as 3 to 4 miles. On Europa, water is expected to reach 15 miles, making the chemical reactions occur deep within the sea floor.
Oxidants are oxygen and other compounds that could respond with hydrogen. For the other part of the concept that life exists on Europa because of a balance in chemical energy, scientists hypothesized that the icy surface of the moon is being cycled back to the interior after the surface has been bathed by Jupiter's radiation.
Study co-author Kevin Hand explains that the oxidants from the ice act like the positive side of a battery and the chemicals on the seafloor, the negative side.
The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.