March 02, 2013

Could the Solar System’s Deepest Ocean Harbor Life? (Weekend Feature)

The deepest ocean on Earth is the Pacific Ocean’s Marianas Trench, which reaches a depth of 6.8 miles awesomely trumped by the depth of the ocean on the Jupiter’s moon, Europa, which some measurements put at 62 miles. Although Europa is covered in a thick crust of scarred and cross-hatched ice, measurements made by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft and other probes strongly suggest that a liquid ocean lies beneath that surface. The interior is warmed, researchers believe, by the tidal stresses exerted on Europa by Jupiter and several other large moons, as well as by radioactivity.

Most scientists believe that the sub-Europan seas are locked under tens of kilometers of ice. Heat is then conducted from the warm core by bulk convective motion of ice – huge chunks of frozen material literally carrying the heat away with them as they move up through the icy layer, shuffling and refreezing as they dump heat into space.
But Jupiter’s Europa might not only sustain, but foster life, according to the research of University of Arizona’s Richard Greenberg, a professor of planetary sciences and member of the Imaging Team for NASA’s Galileo Jupiter-orbiter spacecraft.

Europa, similar in size to Earth’s moon, and has been imaged by the Galileo Jupiter-orbiter spacecraft. Its surface, a frozen crust of water, was previously thought to be tens of kilometers thick, denying the oceans below any exposure. The combination of tidal processes, warm waters and periodic surface exposure may be enough not only to warrant life, but also to encourage evolution.

Read more: Could the Solar System's Deepest Ocean Harbor Life? (Weekend Feature) — The Daily Galaxy.

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