New evidence has come to light that the vast, ice-encrusted oceans of Europa may be harboring Earth-like life that lives on the oxygen-rich waters. Time to plan your extraterrestrial fishing trip? Maybe.
Apparently, the oceans of Europa are fed with more than 100 times more oxygen than previous models suggested. According to National Geographic:
That amount of oxygen would be enough to support more than just microscopic life-forms: At least three million tons of fishlike creatures could theoretically live and breathe on Europa, said study author Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona in Tucson.
"There's nothing saying there is life there now," said Greenberg, who presented his work last month at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences. "But we do know there are the physical conditions to support it."
In fact, based on what we know about the Jovian moon, parts of Europa's seafloor should greatly resemble the environments around Earth's deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, said deep-sea molecular ecologist Timothy Shank.
"I'd be shocked if no life existed on Europa," said Shank, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
So how does the oxygen get into the water? It's created when charged particles from Jupiter's magnetic field hit the ice. Because the icy surface of the moon is constantly shifting and cracking due to tides created by both the Sun and Jupiter's gravitational fields, the oxygenated ice would crumble down into the oceans. Eventually, this would result in oxygen-rich waters like those in our own oceans. And these could possibly support Earth-ish life.
As of yet, no space probes from Earth have penetrated Europa's ice crust to examine the seas below, but NASA has proposed another mission to place a satellite in orbit around the moon. (No, they would not be crashing the satellite into the moon itself.)