Life on Europa?
NASA scientists have observed the presence of table salt in the ocean beneath Europa’s surface.
It was announced this week that NASA scientist have seen what they believe to be signs of sodium chloride — or as we colloquially know it, table salt, in the ocean beneath Europa’s surface. Thanks to the far-reaching lenses of the Hubble Space Telescope, scientist using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), spectroscopy focusing on the visible light spectrum, were able to spot signs of irradiated table salt in regions where the ice on Europa’s surface had broken.
Previously, NASA probes Voyager and Galileo both made observations that suggested there was salty liquid present underneath the surface of Europa’s ice sheet, but both observations led scientist to believe the salt was magnesium sulfate based (think Epsom salts). What caused the Voyager and Galileo probes to observe a different salt present in Europa’s ocean? Light. The Galileo and Voyager probes did not have a visible spectrometer, only a near-infrared spectrometer. But why would this cause the scientist to assume the wrong salt was present? Chlorides are featureless in the infrared spectrum.
As any scientist knows, the observations from the Hubble are just that, observations. These findings are not a definitive answer, but an opening to more questions about what exactly lies in wait beneath Europa’s surface. If the observations of a sodium chloride ocean are correct, this could mean Europa’s ocean is hydrothermally active, a finding that would be quite remarkable. As we know from our own ocean floor, hydrothermal vents can warm the oceans enough to give rise to organic life. Is Europa’s ocean teeming with basic, single-celled organisms, or even more complex life? That question for now is left unanswered, but the answer could be right around the corner. NASA is set to launch the Europa Clipper probe sometime in the 2020s, which should unveil a wealth of insight into what exactly lurks beneath Europa’s surface.
Thank you for reading my first post, I have always been fascinated by the beautiful universe we live in and excited to share any news with you. Please leave a comment or clap if you enjoyed and stay tuned for more articles. Feel free to follow me on twitter @KyleSeelman so we can connect.