Scientist Discovers Ocean beneath Jupiter’s Moon
Beneath the thick layer of ice in Europa, Jupiter’s moon, lies an ocean that intrigues scientists. But, before they can determine if it is likely to harbor life, they must unlock the secrets of this ice cap. Researchers have taken a big step in this direction.
Europa is the moon of Jupiter. It is just about the size of our Moon. But what interests researchers is that it is covered with a layer of ice 15 to 25 kilometers thick. The latter hides an immense ocean whose depth is estimated between 60 and 150 kilometers approximately. An ocean ideal for searching for extraterrestrial life forms.
To find out if this ocean can actually harbor life, researchers have been trying for several years to determine its composition and salinity. Geophysicists from the University of Texas (United States) have just made a discovery that could advance knowledge in this area. According to them, the shell of ice that caps the ocean of Europe could be, in part, formed of underwater snow. Purer snow than other types of ice.
The past research had already suggested that conditions prevailing just under the ice sheet that covers Europa are similar to those found under the Antarctic ice. There, the ice forms in two different ways. By freezing, when it appears just under the pack ice. Or by the accumulation of flakes of ice — frazil, as geophysicists call it — that appear in supercooled seawater and float upwards, settling under the pack ice.
Researchers now estimate that frazil could be abundant in Europa. However, this underwater snow retains only a tiny part of the salt contained in seawater. Enough to make the shell of ice that surrounds Jupiter’s moon much purer than scientists thought until then. And allow us to specify how the heat can penetrate it. Or even how some sort of ice tectonics might be stirring it up.