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Waspie_Dwarf

A Window into Europa's Ocean

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A Window into Europa's Ocean Right at the Surface

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This illustration of Europa (foreground), Jupiter (right) and Io (middle) is an artist's concept. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Full image and caption

If you could lick the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa, you would actually be sampling a bit of the ocean beneath. A new paper by Mike Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and Kevin Hand from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, details the strongest evidence yet that salty water from the vast liquid ocean beneath Europa's frozen exterior actually makes its way to the surface.

The finding, based on some of the best data of its kind since NASA's Galileo mission (1989 to 2003) to study Jupiter and its moons, suggests there is a chemical exchange between the ocean and surface, making the ocean a richer chemical environment. The work is described in a paper that has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.

The exchange between the ocean and the surface, Brown said, "means that energy might be going into the ocean, which is important in terms of the possibilities for life there. 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."

Europa's ocean is thought to cover the moon's whole globe and is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) thick under a thin ice shell. Since the days of NASA's Voyager and Galileo missions, scientists have debated the composition of Europa's surface. The infrared spectrometer aboard Galileo was not capable of providing the detail needed to identify definitively some of the materials present on the surface. Now, using the Keck II Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and its OSIRIS spectrometer, Brown and Hand have identified a spectroscopic feature on Europa's surface that indicates the presence of a magnesium sulfate salt, a mineral called epsomite, that could have formed by oxidation of a mineral likely originating from the ocean below.

Brown and Hand started by mapping the distribution of pure water ice versus anything else. The spectra showed that even Europa's leading hemisphere contains significant amounts of non-water ice. Then, at low latitudes on the trailing hemisphere—the area with the greatest concentration of the non-water ice material—they found a tiny, never-before-detected dip in the spectrum.

The two researchers tested everything from sodium chloride to Drano in Hand's lab at JPL, where he tries to simulate the environments found on various icy worlds. At the end of the day, the signature of magnesium sulfate persisted.

The magnesium sulfate appears to be generated by the irradiation of sulfur ejected from the Jovian moon Io and, the authors deduce, magnesium chloride salt originating from Europa's ocean. Chlorides such as sodium and potassium chlorides, which are expected to be on the Europa surface, are in general not detectable because they have no clear infrared spectral features. But magnesium sulfate is detectable. The authors believe the composition of Europa's ocean may closely resemble the salty ocean of Earth.

Europa is considered a premier target in the search for life beyond Earth, Hand said. A NASA-funded study team led by JPL and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., has been working with the scientific community to identify options to explore Europa further. "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."

The work was supported, in part, by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through the Icy Worlds team based at JPL, a division of Caltech. The NASA Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is a partnership among NASA, 15 U.S. teams, and 13 international consortia. The NAI is part of NASA's Astrobiology program, which supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere.

Jia-Rui Cook 818-354-0850

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

Brian Bell 626-395-5832

California Institute of Technology

bbell2@caltech.edu

2013-082

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Nice post Waspie ,

I'm always keen to read about any news regarding Europa , I have always felt it was our best chance of finding some sort of "life" among our planets .

TiP.

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Nice post Waspie ,

I'm always keen to read about any news regarding Europa , I have always felt it was our best chance of finding some sort of "life" among our planets .

TiP.

You make it sounds like 'life' among this planet ain't treating you well enough tip o'pal

how goes yuh my brethren, :tu:

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MERMAIDS.

When we make the trip, I am so going. Best chance of mermaids in the Sector.

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Posted (edited)

We really need to land a probe on the surface. One that can drill a few feet into the ice layer and do some science.

Edited by Merc14

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One that can drill a few feet into the ice layer and do some science.

What will drilling a few feet achieve? What will you be able to measure 2 foot down that you can't measure at the surface?

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What will drilling a few feet achieve? What will you be able to measure 2 foot down that you can't measure at the surface?

I'd want them to analyze ice that wasn't contaminated by dust and other space debris. Also, a few feet of ice would provide some protection from Jupiter's radiation, no? Surface would be OK but if they could afford it the more pure ice from deper down would be better IMHO.

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All we have to do is scrape the surface ice water to find out about Europa ocean.

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I'd want them to analyze ice that wasn't contaminated by dust and other space debris. Also, a few feet of ice would provide some protection from Jupiter's radiation, no? Surface would be OK but if they could afford it the more pure ice from deper down would be better IMHO.

And analysis it for what. Ice is ice. The Ice on Europa is extremely cold (between -160oC and 220oC). At these temperatures ice is not the easy to drill material we have on Earth, it is as solid as rock. Even drilling a few feet is going to require fairly heavy drilling equipment, meaning minimal scientific equipment can be carried. And to achieve what?

Besides, as the original article notes, there seem to interaction between chemicals at the surface and those in the ocean below. You would drill through that surface, ignoring one of the most scientifically important phenomena.

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Posted (edited)

All we have to do is scrape the surface ice water to find out about Europa ocean.

I am hoping that bacteria are alive and well just below the surface of the ice. Being exposed on the surface to Jupiter's radiation may be too much for anything to survive but just a meter or so down it is a completely different story.

Look in Radiation Menace.

http://www.astrobio....iters-radiation

Edited by Merc14
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Are all the elements necessary for DNA/RNA present on Europa?

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nice discovery guys!!!I say nice because when we always find something new we always send machines instead of real people.to me that's very disappointed and suckish :( it would be cool if we could travel there and live as well.

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nice discovery guys!!!I say nice because when we always find something new we always send machines instead of real people.to me that's very disappointed and suckish :( it would be cool if we could travel there and live as well.

We aren't even close to manned exploration of Europa. Incredibly hostile environment that even a machine will find hard to survive. Manned exploration is, and this is very optimistic, at least a century away with that century being based on the pace of advancement over the last century.

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Its full of europeans.

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This article is a nice find as it also brings about some interesting debate as to intent. Do we seek for the intent of discovery, find parallelisms in life, and/or, perhaps, to re-establish a civilization's boundaries? While establishing human presence in distant lands is perhaps in our genetic makeup, the economics seems to make this more and more prohibitive. And, I can envision a time when we are so overwhelmed with the economics of sustaining our burgeoning Earthly population the opportunity for manned exploration and colonization will be forever extinguished. Will we be ultimately limited to perhaps establishing elaborate sensors at a lagrangian L2 orbit and remotely scanning our universe with perhaps a smattering of trekking galatic nanobots?

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What will drilling a few feet achieve? What will you be able to measure 2 foot down that you can't measure at the surface?

I would like to see some sort of wire able to be coiled up, with a bit at the end that could drill. This way maybe someway we could get to the ocean itself.

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Its full of europeans.

Jovial Europeans, no doubt.

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See if all the ET believers here would focus on things like this then it could be a bit more believable. Imagine a race living on Europa, advanced as us but not caring about the stars since they do not see them, or need them. They have a 3D world to live in grow in. Maybe they didn't develop a need for radio or transmission powerful enough to be heard here on earth. Silly, sure. Possible I haven't a clue. Fun to think about, perhaps.

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This article is a nice find as it also brings about some interesting debate as to intent. Do we seek for the intent of discovery, find parallelisms in life, and/or, perhaps, to re-establish a civilization's boundaries? While establishing human presence in distant lands is perhaps in our genetic makeup, the economics seems to make this more and more prohibitive. And, I can envision a time when we are so overwhelmed with the economics of sustaining our burgeoning Earthly population the opportunity for manned exploration and colonization will be forever extinguished. Will we be ultimately limited to perhaps establishing elaborate sensors at a lagrangian L2 orbit and remotely scanning our universe with perhaps a smattering of trekking galatic nanobots?

If we get to the point where we can send groups of various nanobots, or microbots to other worlds the rewards would be great in terms of exploration. First they could be cheap, massed produced, weigh relatively little and they could be sent aboard rockets then launched from earth orbit at their targets like so many bullets, with little or no fuel. I don't know how many years down the road before the technology becomes a reality, there has to be a power source and some form of atmospheric breaking, but you could literally send out thousand per year. They might not be able to do more than simple tasks given their size but if each type could do a simple scientific function they could be sent to all the solid planets, moons, asteroids, comets and so forth, and even on suicide missions to the gas giants. You could "flood" the surfaces with them so that if some are inevitably lost, the others would keep on transmitting data. Imagine data coming in pole to pole on Mars! The data collected could fill in many gaps in our knowledge of the solar system, and with it you could best decide where to spend the resources of large vehicles and/or manned missions.

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