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Exploring the potential for life on Europa through iron snow
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Exploring the potential for life on Europa through iron snow
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) May 23, 2024

Scientists have long been intrigued by the possibility of life in the subsurface oceans of icy worlds like Europa and Enceladus. Recent research led by Dr. Nita Sahai, a professor at The University of Akron, provides important insights into this question.

In a groundbreaking study published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2024), Dr. Sahai and her collaborators, Dr. John Senko professor of geomicrobiology at UA, and Dr. Doug LaRowe, associate professor of earth science at the University of Southern California, delve deep into the bioenergetics of Europa's ocean in their article titled "Bioenergetics of Iron Snow Fueling Life on Europa." Using model simulations, they examined the potential for various bacterial metabolisms to exist in the Europan ocean, including iron reduction, sulfate reduction, and methanogenesis.

What sets this research apart is the innovative "iron snow" model proposed by Dr. Sahai and her team. Drawing parallels with acid mine drainage systems on Earth, this novel mechanism offers a plausible explanation for the enhanced bacterial primary productivity observed in the Europan ocean. By eliminating the need for highly reactive oxygen species (ROS) to be transported from the surface to the ocean floor, the iron snow model not only enhances the likelihood of detecting life but also mitigates the detrimental effects of ROS on biological molecules.

This study has significant implications. It not only enhances our understanding of Europa's potential habitability but also broadens our knowledge of the conditions required for life in extreme environments. The diversity of microbial metabolisms identified suggests numerous biosignature molecules that could be targeted for detection, advancing the quest to find life beyond Earth.

Research Report:Bioenergetics of iron snow fueling life on Europa

Related Links
College of Engineering and Polymer Science, The University of Akron
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
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