oxygen in the ocean of Europa, Jupiter’s moon?

At a time when the search for life anywhere else but Earth will enter a new phase with James Webb telescopeIt is worth recalling that in the early 1980s, in his famous novel 2010: Odyssey twoArthur Clarke – the famous inventor of the concept geostationary satellite – was already serious about the idea that life forms could exist in the ocean underwater. pack ice Europe, moon frozen off Jupiter.

He only partially adopted for his heavy science fiction novel the results that we had just received after the success of the missions. Journey 1 and 2 during their visit to Jupiter’s moons. As Futura has explained in previous articles, the discovery io volcanism the first close-up photographs of European sea ice were taken and obtained.

Inspired by the life forms in the area hydrothermal springs in the abyss in the 1970s, some suggested that there might be similar ones in the ocean of Europa, with volcanism from, as in the case And aboutfrom tidal forces Jupiter systems. Perhaps this is how life began on Earth, within the walls fireplaces from hydrothermal springs similar duringGadin or at the very beginningArchaean.

These ideas have gained more and more weight over the years, to the point that missions to Europe, directly or indirectly, have been considered or are already being prepared, for example, Juice and especially Europe Clipper.

Europa and its global ocean are promising for exobiology. For a fairly accurate French translation, click on the white box in the lower right corner. After that, English subtitles should appear. Then click on the nut to the right of the rectangle, then on “Subtitles” and finally on “Translate automatically”. Select “French”. © NASA

Non-biogenic oxygen over Europe

Recall that on our Blue Planet, hydrothermal vents discovered in the oceans since the 1970s in the vicinity of volcanically active zones are oases of life that draw their energy belonging chemosynthesis made of sulfurwithout light from Sun. There are good reasons to believe that the useoxygen the creation of living forms was an important milestone in evolution because it provides a much more efficient source of energy.

This oxygen is mainly produced on Earth photosynthesis and therefore it is difficult to understand how this could happen in the world’s oceans under the pack ice of Europa, which is already very far from the Sun. Hence, one might think that this is the limiting factor in the evolution of complex life forms on Europa. Indeed, some wonder if the famous cambrian explosion did not favor on earth more oxygen available.

However, a group of planetary scientists led by membersUniversity of Texas in Austin (USA) is being promoted in an article published in Geophysical Research Lettersthe consolidated version of which is in free accessthat the oceans of Europa may be as rich in oxygen as the oceans of the Earth.

The idea is not really new, but it is supported here numerical simulation taking into account the influence of the large flux of charged particles bombarding the icy surface of Europa, a flux so large that it is known to make it difficult for a rather limited time, even with hardening of the electronics, the operation of the probe orbit closer to Europe.

in physical model Emphasis on the behavior of sea ice of salt ice was implemented at the level of analogues of the so-called landscapes of chaos in geomorphology on Earth. In the case of Europe, these are landscapes consisting of cracks, hummocks and blocks of ice covering a quarter of the frozen world.

A priori, oxygen formed during the dissociation of water molecules from ice under the action of photons filters not filtered atmosphereas is the case on Earth, and especially under the influence of charged particles, very energetic in magnetosphere close to Jupiter should not be dissipated through the at least 10 km thick pack ice covering Europa.

However, there is reason to believe that at the level of chaotic landscapes brine connecting the surface of Europe with its interior. Numerical simulations suggest that this fluid could absorb oxygen and diffuse, seeping through cracks in the pack ice beneath these areas, eventually reaching the inland ocean.

However, there is a large uncertainty about the final supply of oxygen, by a factor of 10,000 in fact, even if the calculations also suggest that about 86% of the oxygen produced at the surface should reach Europa’s interior.

Perhaps we’ll find out more once the probe is launched. Europe Clipper presumably in 2024. But to begin research, it will have to wait until it arrives around Jupiter in 2030.

With this video, a series of public exobiology courses begins. Are we alone in the universe? You may have already asked yourself this question… We can find answers in movies, literature or sci-fi comics, and our imaginations are filled with extraterrestrial beings! But what does science say about this? AstrobioEducation invites you to discover exobiology, an interdisciplinary science that aims to study the origin of life and its exploration in other parts of the universe. Through an educational journey divided into 12 stages, researchers from different disciplines will help you understand how science works to answer fascinating questions about the origin of life and its exploration in places other than Earth. © French Society of Exobiologists

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