Europa's Ocean Contains Enough Oxygen To Support Life
Tucson AZ (SPX) Oct 09, 2009
The global ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa contains about twice the liquid water of all the Earth's oceans combined. New research suggests that there may be plenty of oxygen available in that ocean to support life, a hundred times more oxygen than previously estimated.
The chances for life there have been uncertain, because Europa's ocean lies beneath several miles of ice, which separates it from the production of oxygen at the surface by energetic charged particles (similar to cosmic rays).
Without oxygen, life could conceivably exist at hot springs in the ocean floor using exotic metabolic chemistries, based on sulfur or the production of methane. However, it is not certain whether the ocean floor actually would provide the conditions for such life.
Therefore a key question has been whether enough oxygen reaches the ocean to support the oxygen-based metabolic process that is most familiar to us. An answer comes from considering the young age of Europa's surface.
Its geology and the paucity of impact craters suggests that the top of the ice is continually reformed such that the current surface is only about 50 million years old, roughly 1% of the age of the solar system.
Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona has considered three generic resurfacing processes: gradually laying fresh material on the surface; opening cracks which fill with fresh ice from below; and disrupting patches of surface in place and replacing them with fresh material.
Using estimates for the production of oxidizers at the surface, he finds that the delivery rate into the ocean is so fast that the oxygen concentration could exceed that of the Earth's oceans in only a few million years.
Greenberg says that the concentrations of oxygen would be great enough to support not only microorganisms, but also "macrofauna", that is, more complex animal-like organisms which have greater oxygen demands. The continual supply of oxygen could support roughly 3 billion kilograms of macrofauna, assuming similar oxygen demands to terrestrial fish.
The good news for the question of the origin of life is that there would be a delay of a couple of billion years before the first surface oxygen reached the ocean. Without that delay, the first pre-biotic chemistry and the first primitive organic structures would be disrupted by oxidation.
Oxidation is a hazard unless organisms have evolved protection from its damaging effects. A similar delay in the production of oxygen on Earth was probably essential for allowing life to get started here.
Richard Greenberg is the author of the recent book "Unmasking Europa: The Search for Life on Jupiter's Ocean Moon", which offers a comprehensive picture of Europa for the general reader.
Share This Article With Planet Earth
University of Arizona
Jupiter and its Moons
Explore The Ring World of Saturn and her moons
The million outer planets of a star called Sol
News Flash at Mercury
Ganymede's Magnetosphere Makes Big Impression On Jupiter's Aurora
Potsdam, Germany (SPX) Sep 21, 2009
Studies of features in Jupiter's spectacular and rapidly changing aurorae have given new insights into the complex electromagnetic interactions between the giant planet and two of its innermost moons. As Ganymede and Io orbit Jupiter, they interact with regions of plasma and generate electromagnetic waves that are projected along Jupiter's magnetic field lines towards Jupiter's poles where ... read more
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2009 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement|