UT Scientists Uncover Water On Jupiter’s Moon Europa

We may not be alone in the universe after all—and a pair of UT scientists found the evidence to prove it.

Britney Schmidt, a postdoctoral fellow at UT’s Institute for Geophysics, and Don Blankenship, senior research scientist at the institute, were part of a team that discovered a body of liquid water on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Using Galileo spacecraft images, the researchers unearthed a mass—estimated to have the same volume as North America’s Great Lakes—that is covered by floating ice shelves.

In addition to the simple presence of water, another promising sign in the search for life beyond Earth is the fact that these ice shelves are collapsing. This collapse enables nutrient transfer from the rocky surface to the vast ocean below.

“One opinion in the scientific community has been, ‘If the shell is thick, that’s bad for biology,’” Schmidt, the study’s lead author, says. “Now we see that even though the ice shell is thick, it can mix vigorously. That could make Europa and it’s ocean more habitable.”

Though confirmation of the water’s presence on Europa will only come with a future spacecraft mission, the team’s four-step model on how these features formed on Jupiter’s moon is being praised for resolving many conflicting observations.

The paper, entitled “Active Formation of ‘Chaos Terrain’ Over Shallow Subsurface Water on Europa, is available at Nature.com.

Photo courtesy Jackson School of Geosciences.


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