Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa Produces Much Less Oxygen Than Previously Thought : Study

The study’s foundation was data gathered by NASA, the US space agency, through its Juno satellite. Since July 2016, the orbiter Juno has been examining Jupiter.

The equipment on Juno were used to measure the amounts of hydrogen and oxygen molecules coming from the atmosphere of Europa. According to the findings, the cold moon generates roughly 1,000 tons of oxygen per day. That quantity, according to NASA, would be sufficient “to keep a million humans breathing for a day.”

The space agency did point out that the estimations of oxygen levels were “substantially less” than what had been found in previous moon investigations.

The moon of Earth is slightly larger than Europa. Nonetheless, it remains among the biggest in our solar system. NASA observations indicate that behind Europa’s thick coat of ice may lie an ocean. The ocean on the moon may contain twice as much water as the oceans on Earth, according to scientific estimates.

The data used in the new study was gathered by Juno in 2022 during an exceptionally near flyby of Europa. The spacecraft is thought to have approached the moon by 350 kilometers during the flyby.

Teams from the Southwest Research Institute in Maryland and Princeton University in New Jersey oversaw the research. According to scientific estimates, Europa produces about 12 kg of oxygen every second. According to earlier estimates, the moon was shedding up to 1,000 kg every second.

Researchers have already determined that Europa is a good contender to possess the necessary circumstances to support life in some manner since it is thought to have a sizable ocean beneath its surface. The majority of the information was gathered from telescopic studies of the oxygen content of the moon’s frozen surface.

The earlier observations are not supported by the current, lower estimations of oxygen. The study’s team stated that additional investigation will be required to validate the most recent results

Co-author of the work and a Juno investigator at the Southwest Research Institute is Scott Bolton. In a statement, he stated that the new discoveries made by the scientists directly impact the likelihood that Europa may be habitable. The most recent study provides scientists with “a narrow range that could support habitability,” according to Bolton, even if the oxygen amounts detected were much lower.

The primary author of the paper was Jamey Szalay, a researcher at Princeton University. “The findings unambiguously demonstrate oxygen is continuously produced at the surface, just a good bit lower than we expected.” he stated.

Szalay also mentioned that the first time a spacecraft was able to assess the moon’s atmosphere directly was during Juno’s flyby of Europa. He emailed The Associated Press, saying, “We couldn’t wait to peek behind the curtain of its complex environment,” 

According to the researchers, these new findings “open the door for newer, more precise models” and can aid in scientists’ knowledge of Europa and her surroundings.

In October, NASA intends to launch the Europa Clipper mission. The purpose of this orbiter is to conduct in-depth research on Europa. It will search for indications that it might contain the necessary elements to sustain life.

According to NASA, the orbiter will “perform repeated close flybys of the ice moon” while in orbit around Jupiter.

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