News Column

Scientists Probe Icy Moon of Jupiter

March 5, 2013

U.S. researchers say evidence suggests salty water from the vast liquid ocean beneath Jupiter's frozen moon Europa actually makes its way to the surface.

The finding, based on data from telescopes on Earth, suggests there is a chemical exchange between the ocean and the completely frozen surface and that learning more about Europa's ocean could be as simple as analyzing the moon's surface.

"We now have evidence that Europa's ocean is not isolated -- that the ocean and the surface talk to each other and exchange chemicals," California Institute of Technoly planetary astronomy Professor Mike Brown said.

"That means that energy might be going into the ocean, which is important in terms of the possibilities for life there," he said. "It also means that if you'd like to know what's in the ocean, you can just go to the surface and scrape some off."

Brown, along with Kevin Hand from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, identified a spectroscopic feature on Europa's surface indicating the presence of a mineral called epsomite that could only originate from the ocean below.

Brown and Hand said they believe the composition of Europa's sea closely resembles the salty oceans of Earth.

"If we've learned anything about life on Earth, it's that where there's liquid water, there's generally life," Hand said. "And of course our ocean is a nice salty ocean. Perhaps Europa's salty ocean is also a wonderful place for life."

Source: Copyright United Press International 2013

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