For decades, researchers have been searching for possibilities of life outside our planet. There have been a few candidates in the past - the most of famous of which being planet Mars. Recently, another body in our solar system has become the object of study, and scientists believe it may be inhabited by different forms of life...
The place we're talking about is one of Jupiter's 79 moons, called Europa. Researchers have found that this particular moon holds all the essentials for sustaining life, mainly water, and oxygen. Not only that, but Europa also has chemicals that could provide vital nutrients to living beings. But due to the structure of this moon's atmosphere, scientists are delving into just how these nutrients could be delivered to any forms of life that may be lurking in its subsurface.
The moon's surface is covered with a thick layer of ice, and beneath it is an abundance of salty water. In fact, researchers have found that this astronomical body may contain more water than the Earth's oceans! Determined to find out whether any living creatures could possibly be hiding beneath its icy shell, scientists have come up with a model to determine whether it's physically possible for the planet's oxygen to be pulled through the thick layer of ice. They built a physics-based computer simulation of this process, which they believe involves "chaos terrains" - landscapes made up of cracks, ridges, and ice blocks. According to their theory, oxygen travels via saltwater under these "chaos terrains" and can then be transported to life forms under the water.
The findings from their study reveal that not only is life on Europa possible, but its oceans actually contain the same oxygen levels as oceans here on Earth. "Our research puts this process into the realm of the possible," said Professor Marc Hesse from the University of Texas at Austin. "It provides a solution to what is considered one of the outstanding problems of the habitability of the Europa subsurface ocean." NASA has announced its plans to launch an orbiter called the Europa Clipper in 2024, which could even take these findings a few steps further. We'll definitely be staying tuned for this one!