Science/Tech

NASA Team Finds Best Place For Alien Life In Our Solar System

The search for alien life may no longer require a journey across the galaxy. A new study by NASA scientists found a place just in our solar system that could potentially support living organisms. 

That place is Jupiter's moon, Europa. The findings, presented at the 2020 Goldschmidt Conference, suggest that certain events occur in its subsurface oceans, which may allow extraterrestrial life to thrive, ScienceAlert reported

NASA scientists said radioactive decay or tidal forces potentially generate enough heat beneath Europa’s icy surface, allowing liquid water to flow. On Earth, experts believe that some forms of life formed because of volcanic vents in the ocean that also produce heat into the waters.

The latest study comes amid NASA’s preparation to launch a mission to Europa in 2024. Ongoing research aims to determine how the mission can search for signs of life on the moon. 

NASA planetary scientists Mohit Melwani Daswani and Steven Vance focused on the presence of water beneath the icy surface of Europa. Their findings indicate that the heat of either radioactive decay or tidal interactions with Jupiter helped break minerals and turn them into flowing water. 

"We were able to model the composition and physical properties of the core, silicate layer and ocean," Melwani Daswani said. "We find that different minerals lose water and volatiles at different depths and temperatures. We added up these volatiles that are estimated to have been lost from the interior, and found that they are consistent with the current ocean's predicted mass, meaning that they are probably present in the ocean."

Europa also appeared to have a salty surface, which potentially makes its oceans fairly similar to Earth's. The NASA team said, based on simulations, that water on Jupiter's moon probably started out mildly acidic, with high concentrations of carbon dioxide, sulfate and calcium.

"Indeed it was thought that this ocean could still be rather sulphuric, but our simulations, coupled with data from the Hubble Space Telescope, showing chloride on Europa's surface, suggest that the water most likely became chloride rich," Melwani Daswani said. "In other words, its composition became more like oceans on Earth. We believe that this ocean could be quite habitable for life."

The scientist described Europa as “one of our best chances of finding life in our solar system.” The NASA team plans to continue their study to further understand the moon’s habitability, with future efforts expected to focus on other conditions like volcanic activities that could support life.

Europa The puzzling, fascinating surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa looms large in this newly-reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

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