Experiments to measure the freezing point of extraterrestrial oceans will help in the search for life

(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California at Berkeley have conducted experiments to measure the physical limits of the existence of liquid water on icy extraterrestrial worlds.

This combination of geological and engineering sciences has been made to help in the search for extraterrestrial life and the upcoming exploration of the oceans on the moons of other planets using robots.

The results of the study were recently published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Sciences.

“The more stable a fluid is, the more promising it is for habitability,” said study co-author Baptiste Journeau, an acting assistant professor of earth and space sciences at UW.

“Our results show that the high-pressure cold, salty liquids found in the deep ocean of other planetary moons can remain liquid at a much lower temperature than at lower pressure. This expands the range of possible habitats on icy moons and will allow us to accurately determine where to look for biosignatures, or signs of life.”

The icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, including Europa, Ganymede and Titan, are the leading candidates for extraterrestrial life in our solar system. These ice-covered moons are believed to have vast liquid oceans, dozens of times the volume of the oceans on Earth.

Although Earth is referred to as ‘blue marble’, it is surprisingly dry compared to these worlds,” Journeau said. The

oceans on these moons can contain various kinds of salts and are expected to be from 150 kilometers deep on Europa to more than 600 kilometers on Titan.

“We know that water supports life, but most of the oceans on these moons are probably at temperatures below zero degrees Celsius and pressures greater than Earth’s,” Journo said. “We needed to know how cold the ocean can get before it freezes completely, including in its deepest abysses.”

The research focused on the eutectic, or the lowest temperature at which a brine solution can remain liquid until completely frozen. Salt and water is one example – salt water stays liquid below the freezing point of pure water, which is one of the reasons people put salt on roads in winter to avoid ice formation.

The experiments used equipment from the University of California at Berkeley, originally intended for future cryopreservation of organs for medical purposes and food storage. However, for this study, the authors used it to simulate conditions thought to exist on the moons of other planets.

Jurnot, a planetary scientist and expert in the physics of water and minerals, together with engineers at the University of California at Berkeley, tested solutions of five different salts at a pressure of 3,000 times atmospheric pressure, or 300 megapascals, which is about three times the pressure in the deepest ocean trench Earth.

“Knowing the lowest temperature at which salt water can remain a liquid at high pressure is integral to understanding how extraterrestrial life can exist and thrive in the deep oceans of these icy ocean worlds,” said co-author Matthew Powell-Palm, who led the study. a job as a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-founder and CEO of cryopreservation company BioChoric, Inc.

Journo recently began working with NASA‘s Dragonfly mission team, which will send a rotorcraft to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in 2027.

NASA is also leading the Europa Clipper mission in 2024 to explore Europa, one of the many moons orbiting Jupiter. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency will send its JUICE, or Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, spacecraft in 2023 to explore Jupiter’s three largest moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

“The new data obtained from this study may further researchers’ understanding of the complex geological processes observed in these icy ocean worlds,” Journo said.


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