A team of scientists revealed that Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europe, may have pockets of water inside its ice-covered surface that could support life.
A team from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States used satellite images of the features on the frozen surface of the moon and modeled their age and size.
Scientists speculate that these features are pockets of liquid water within a 15-mile-thick ice crust, which lasted for a few thousand years before refreezing.
And they emphasized that these pockets of water could be livable and contain current microbial life that NASA’s “multi-overflights mission around Europe”, which will be launched in 2024, may be able to discover.
Europe is known as the fourth largest moon of the gas giant Jupiter, and is believed to contain a liquid water ocean 100 miles below its frozen surface.
There is evidence of recent geological formations within the 15-mile-thick frozen crust, including small, dark, dome-like features one mile below the surface.
Using numerical simulations, the team found that these features contain relatively short-lived shoals that are currently found in the ice crust.
The team explained that these pockets of water within the wider cryosphere could potentially be suitable for microbial life, although no life has yet been discovered.
Scientist Chase Chevers and colleagues modeled the pockets in images from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which explored the Jupiter system in the 1990s and 2000s.
It was believed that the dark spots in some pockets, discovered on the surface of the moon Europa, were associated with the salt in the Earth’s interior that maintains the liquid water and slows the freezing process.
Chivers predicts that there could be hundreds of these pockets of liquid water across the surface of the moon today.
“We think there is still shallow water underneath some of these features,” Chivers told the New Scientist, adding that it might explain the appearance of plumes on the moon’s surface that were previously thought to have come from the ocean.
Mark Fox Powell of the Open University in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in this study, told The New Scientist that if pockets exist, they could be home to life.
He explained that “if there is life in the underground ocean, and it merges into the ice crust and is subsequently re-melted, that may lead to the beginning of life,” but added that it would be a “doomed society” as it is in the end that it will freeze again.
It is hoped that the “multi-flight mission around Europe”, which was called “Europe-Clipper”, scheduled to be launched in 2024, will be able to discover the pockets closest to the surface of the moon.
This spacecraft will reach the moon in 2030 and use radar to search under the surface, and an analyzer to study dust coming from the moon in plumes.
And if these plumes were created from these pockets, as the team predicted, they might discover evidence of microbial life in the dust.
The full results of the study were recently published in the journal JGR Planets.
Source: Daily Mail