Scientists have taken a step closer to finding out if extraterrestrial life really exists.
One of the places where they have long believed life could exist is one of Jupiter’s 79 moons.
The moon in question is Europa – and there’s a very valid reason for that.
Europa contains water and oxygen, the essential elements for sustaining life, as well as chemicals that could serve as nutrients.
But experts have struggled to prove all of this, mainly because we have never tested samples and can only rely on observations.
What’s more, Europa is home to ice-covered oceans that are estimated to be almost 15 miles thick, and scientists believe life may well be lying below.
How oxygen passes through the huge ice to allow what’s hiding at the bottom to breathe has been left to scientific theory, but now a team has put together a model to show how it might work.
They are convinced that the salty water inside the icy shell could carry oxygen.
Building a physics-based computer simulation of the process, oxygen clings to salt water beneath the moon’s “chaotic terrains,” landscapes made up of fissures, ridges, and blocks of ice.
Their results show that this process is not only possible, but could mean that the ocean of Europa contains a similar amount of oxygen as the oceans on Earth.
“Our research brings this process into the realm of the possible,” said Professor Marc Hesse of the University of Texas at Austin.
“It provides a solution to what is considered to be one of the outstanding problems of the habitability of the subterranean ocean of Europa”.
NASA plans to send an orbiter called Europa Clipper in 2024, which could build on their findings.
“It’s seductive to think that some kind of aerobic organisms live just under the ice,” added co-author Steven Vance.
British professor Monica Grady has previously said she thinks we have a better chance of finding extraterrestrial life on Europa than on Mars, which tends to grab attention.
And if there is, she might look like an octopus.
“I think we’re more likely to find slightly higher life forms on Europa, perhaps similar to the intelligence of an octopus,” she said.
The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.