Scientists from Brown University have found new evidence suggesting that Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, could be harboring alien life. As reported by Express UK, the evidence hinges on the possible tectonic activity occurring beneath the moon’s surface. As tectonic plates continually push against each other, there’s a stronger possibility that subduction is also taking place. The process of subduction, according to geophysicists, makes life possible on Earth — and the same process applies to Europa as well.
“If indeed, there’s life in that ocean, subduction offers a way to supply the nutrients it would need,” explains Brandon Johnson, assistant professor Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences.
Much like Earth, Europa harbors large salty oceans brimming with oxygen and various minerals that play an integral role in sustaining life. For years, scientists have been studying the icy moon’s tectonic features, and successive findings have pointed towards the possibility that there’s enough tectonic activity to kickstart the process of subduction in the moon’s oceans.
The team created a simulation model of Europa in order to map out its tectonic activity. Findings suggest that below the moon’s cold surface is a slightly warmer region of ice. Since the moon’s crust contains a high concentration of salt, slabs of warmer ice are constantly being pushed down towards the deeper reaches of the ocean. This causes tectonic plates to shift and overlap.
“Adding salt to an ice slab would be like adding little weights to it because salt is denser than ice,” said the assistant professor.
“So, rather than temperature, we show that differences in the salt content of the ice could enable subduction to happen on Europa.”
While tectonic activity on Earth causes natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic explosions, it also makes it possible for the planet to sustain life, primarily because the shifting plates help carbon to cycle through our seas. The process of subduction on Earth, however, is driven primarily by temperature differences between relatively cool dense rocky plates and the hot surrounding mantle. It’s different for Europa where tectonic activity is made possible by high salt content rather than by differences in temperature.
The team’s groundbreaking discovery is far from conclusive, but it bolsters the possibility that Europa’s moon is hosting alien life.
Moreover, NASA is also making preparations to seek out alien life on Jupiter’s moon. Named the Europa Clipper mission, NASA’s plan involves a solar-powered robot navigating the surface of the moon. By taking photos of the moon’s surface, NASA hopes to get a more detailed map of Europa’s environment. Outer Places report that the mission could cost up to $4 billion.