A Jupiter moon has been found to not be as salty as originally thought with similarities to Earth as scientists examine whether life could exist, according to a new study.
The icy moon Europa, that orbits Jupiter, is surrounded by a thick layer of ice and it has been found that snow gravitates towards it in new research published in the Astrobiology journal.
It is similar to how snow moves up through the water below ice shelves on Earth and it suggests that the moon may not be as salty as scientists previously believed.
The news of similarities with Earth is a boost in the search for life on Europa ahead of NASA’s Europa Clipper Spacecraft mission to the moon which is due to launch in October, 2024.
And the advantage of their being less salt within the moon’s ice shell has the added benefit that the Europa Clipper’s radar will be able to penetrate deeper and learn more about the underwater world.
The ice shell is believed to be up to 25 kilometres thick and sit above an ocean that could be 150 kilometres deep, according to the study in Astrobiology.
“When we’re exploring Europa, we’re interested in the salinity and composition of the ocean, because that’s one of the things that will govern its potential habitability or even the type of life that might live there,” said lead study author Natalie Wolfenbarger, a researcher at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics in the UT Jackson School of Geosciences, in a statement.
Scientists have been studying the water and the ice, and have reached the conclusion that there is less salt present. The amount of ice compared to on Earth is being used to determine the likelihood of life existing on the moon.
“We can use Earth to evaluate Europa’s habitability, measure the exchange of impurities between the ice and ocean, and figure out where water is in the ice,” said study coauthor Donald Blankenship, a senior research scientist at the university.