Friday, March 2, 2012

Life on Europa: a soda ocean? 03.02.12

Of all of the other places in our solar system, one of the most promising locations for extraterrestrial life has been Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Completely covered with ice on the surface, researchers believe Europa harbors an ocean of liquid water at least 100 miles deep, which leads down to a rocky interior and a solid core of some type, most likely metal. Surface studies on the moon have yet to be conducted, however, so the re­searchers have no idea how thick the icy crust on the outside of the planet may be.
Credit: NASA.
While the possibility of an ocean of liquid water is more than enough to be excited about, some researchers are beginning to doubt whether or not life as we know it would be able to thrive on the chilling planet. What research has been done on the planet is beginning to lead the scientists to believe that whatever water is there would be highly contaminated by extremely acidic chemicals. There is some speculation that it is possible the acidity could be balanced out by more basal minerals at the ocean floor, but again, it is all speculation.
There are a few places on Earth where some microbes and other life forms thrive in highly acidic environments, but those areas are few and far between. So, the likelihood of life sur­viving on an entire planet like that? Very slim.
Without the bases and minerals at the ocean floor to balance out the pH, though, the researchers say the ocean would have moderately corrosive characteristics, “about the same as your average soft drink,” except it would be more along the lines of hydrogen peroxide than a cola. Swim time, anyone?
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