(ORDO NEWS) — Salt water could transport oxygen through the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa into a subsurface ocean of liquid water, where that oxygen could help form and sustain life, a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, USA, says.
This hypothesis has been previously proposed by other researchers, but in the new work it has been tested using the world’s first computer model of this process, based on physical principles, in which oxygen is transported by salt water under the surface of areas of “chaotic terrain” – landscapes cut by cracks, icy mountain ranges and blocks that cover about a quarter of the surface of Europe.
These results show not only that such transport is possible, but that the amount of oxygen delivered to Europa’s oceans is comparable to the amount of oxygen currently found in Earth’s oceans.
“Our study shows that such transfer is fundamentally possible,” said study lead author Marc Hesse, professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Texas. “It provides a solution to a problem that has long precluded habitability of Europa’s subsurface ocean.”
Europa is one of the most important scientific targets in the solar system for the search for extraterrestrial life, as scientists have previously found traces of oxygen and water, as well as chemical compounds that can serve as nutrients.
However, Jupiter’s moon’s icy crust – estimated to be 24 kilometers thick – acts as a barrier between ocean water and oxygen generated by sunlight and charged particles from Jupiter that bombard the icy surface.
According to the model built by Hesse and his group, salt water is filtered through the crust of the satellite through the pores in accordance with the characteristic mechanism, taking the form of a “porosity wave” (porosity wave),
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