Jupiter’s moon hosts key ingredient to life infographic
Graphic shows structure of Europa and locations of frozen carbon dioxide crystals detected by James Webb Space Telescope


Jupiter’s moon hosts key ingredient to life

By Phil Bainbridge

September 27, 2023 - Images from the James Webb Space Telescope reveal that Jupiter’s moon Europa may hold carbon dioxide in the ocean beneath its icy shell, meaning it could harbour conditions suitable for life.

Europa is one of a handful of worlds in our solar system that could potentially sustain life. Previous research has shown that beneath its water-ice crust lies a salty ocean of liquid water with a rocky seafloor, with salt detected at the surface by Hubble in 2019.

Two independent studies, based on images from JWST, have now concluded that frozen crystals of carbon dioxide found on the surface of Europa originated in the ocean, and not from any external source. The highest concentrations were found in an area known as Tara Regio, a geologically young area of “chaos terrain”, so called because when plumes of warmer water rise to the surface the ice melts, breaks and refreezes, forming chaotic patterns and angles.

The rising water, it is suspected, brings carbon dioxide, salt and other material to the surface, much like deep ocean hydrothermal vents on Earth.

PUBLISHED: 27/09/2023; STORY: Graphic News