Jupiter’s moon Europa has less oxygen than expected

A new calculation of gas production on Jupiter’s moon Europa shows that it produces up to a thousand tons of oxygen every 24 hours. The results obtained thanks to NASA’s Juno probe are published on the portal. Natural astronomerAnd.

The Juno mission measured the release of hydrogen on the surface of the frozen satellite using the JADE (Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment) instrument. The amount of oxygen produced by Europa is much less than previously thought. However, NASA explains that with tons of gas, a million people could continue to breathe every day.

Why does Europa produce oxygen?

Studies on the production of the vital element have estimated production at a thousand kilograms per second. The new figure corresponds to 12 kilograms per second. The constant formation of gas on Europa occurs because radiation emanating from Jupiter breaks down the ice on its surface into hydrogen and oxygen, its main components. This process is known as radiolysis.. Hydrogen disperses into space, while oxygen remains trapped due to the thin atmosphere.

“When ionized particles from Jupiter hit Europa, they destroy the water ice molecule on the surface. In a sense, the entire layer of ice is constantly being destroyed by the waves of charged particles that reach it,” explained scientist Jamie Szalay, working on the JADE instrument on board the Juno probe. .

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Life in “Europe”: less and less likely

Scientists are encouraged by the presence of oxygen on Europa because they believe some of it could reach the underground ocean and become a source of metabolic energy. In other words, if there are microorganisms floating in the extraterrestrial ocean, they could technically use this element in their process to generate energy for life.

Europa is the fourth largest known satellite of Jupiter. Along with Io, Ganimid and Callisto, it is part of a special group called the Galilean moons, characterized by the presence of underground oceans, geological activity and a thin atmosphere. They were discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. NASA is constantly studying them for their ability to create an environment conducive to life..

In the specific case of “Europa,” there is a salty ocean, trapped oxygen, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, active marine activity, and volcanic vents. The best hypothesis for the origin of complex life is that, if it exists, it would be generated around fumaroles using high levels of gases, water and high temperatures.

There are important physical obstacles that do not bode well for the search for extraterrestrial organisms in the underground seas. The radiation that Europa receives from Jupiter is so intense that an unprotected person would die in one day from exposure to charged particles.

On the other hand, recent calculations carried out on the Titan satellite show that the amount of prebiotic matter inside any ocean world is negligible compared to the volumes of its liquid. The report concludes that the relationship between life’s essential components and water will be “insignificant” to its development. Life on Earth originated in primordial seas, but the presence of an element is only a part (irreplaceable, of course) of the complex process of the emergence of simple organisms.

Most of the current unknowns about Europa and the rest of the Galilean moons will be resolved when new missions arrive at Jupiter in the coming years. The Juno mission officially entered the Jupiter system in 2016, but has been using technology since 2010. The European Space Agency’s Juice and NASA Clipper missions are equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation. Both probes are expected to reach the planet in 2030 to begin exploring satellites with underground oceans.

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