The hypothesis that comet impacts on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, transported the building blocks of life to the ocean beneath the icy surface has gained further support. Even though these impacts did not penetrate the entire ice crust separating the ocean from the surface, a recent study conducted by a team including Evan Carnahan and Marc Hesse from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that the impacts may have transported essential chemicals to the ocean. The study relied on a computer model that simulated the aftermath of asteroid and comet impacts on Europa’s ice crust, which can reach a thickness of several tens of kilometers.
The model suggests that impacts capable of breaking through at least half of the ice crust can generate meltwater that carries oxidants, a vital class of chemicals necessary for the sustenance of life, down to the subterranean ocean. These oxidants could have facilitated the development of living organisms in the ocean’s liquid water.
Previously, other scientists had suggested that the transport of oxidants from Europa’s surface to the ocean below could only occur if the impacts fully penetrated the ice. However, the new study indicates that a broader range of impacts can achieve the same outcome. As a result, Europa’s subterranean ocean may have received a more diverse mix of the chemical building blocks necessary for life.
The findings of this study offer further support to the hypothesis that Europa’s ocean contains the necessary conditions for the emergence of life. The research emphasizes the importance of understanding the processes that may have led to the transportation of essential chemicals to the ocean of icy moons such as Europa.
Artist’s impression of the impact of a comet or asteroid on Jupiter’s moon Europa. (Image: NASA JPL/Caltech)
This inquiry, concerning the ability of oxidants to traverse from their natural formation site on Europa’s surface to its ocean, is a pivotal question in the field of astrobiology as it pertains to the Jupiterian moon. One of NASA’s primary objectives for the Europa Clipper mission is to gather data that can shed light on this subject matter.
Currently, the transportation of oxidants is thought to be achievable through the impacts of comets and asteroids. On Europa’s surface, a multitude of craters have been discovered, many of which exhibit a distinct rippled appearance that implies the presence of frozen meltwater and post-impact movement underneath the crater.
The study is titled “Surface-To-Ocean Exchange by the Sinking of Impact Generated Melt Chambers on Europe”. And it has been published in the academic journal Geophysical Research Letters. (Fountain: NCYT by Amazings)