Europa, one of Jupiter’s satellites, has an inland ocean beneath its icy surface “which might be able to sustain life,” a theory that has been backed by a new model developed by NASA scientists. The team has also calculated that this water could have been formed by the decomposition of minerals that would have released the water, either by the forces of the tide or by a process called radioactive decay. These results, which have not yet been reviewed by other experts, but which may have implications for other moons in the Solar System, were presented at the Goldschmidt Conference, the main annual international meeting on geochemistry, and which this year is held in virtual form.
Europe has a diameter of 3,100 kilometers, slightly smaller than that of our Moon, and orbits Jupiter about 780 million kilometers from the Sun. Its surface temperature never exceeds -160 degrees Celsius, but that of its underground ocean.
It is one of the largest moons in the Solar System and since the Voyager and Galileo probes flew over it, scientists have argued that the icy surface crust floats in an underground ocean, the origin and composition of which are unclear. Using data from the Galileo mission, researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory modeled geochemical deposits in the interior of Europe.
Lead researcher Mohit Melwani Daswani explains, in a statement, that they modeled the composition and physical properties of the core, the silicate layer and the ocean. As a result, the team discovered that different minerals lose water and volatile material at different depths and temperatures. “We added these volatile components that are estimated to have been lost from the interior (of the satellite), and we saw that they are consistent with the predicted mass of the current ocean, which means that they are probably present in the ocean,” added the expert.