Tech & Science Earthquakes Might Be Feeding Alien Life on Europa

01:38  06 december  2017
01:38  06 december  2017 Source:   Newsweek

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Intriguingly, these warm waters may make it easier for life to make it to the surface. Europa is covered in a miles-thick layer of ice, but a liquid ocean lies beneath. Any potential search for signs of life on this moon now appear to be considerably easier.

Europa 's inner ocean may be capable of supporting simple lifeforms. A proposed lander may go and look for them in the 2030s. That's because the last time the agency tried to look directly for alien life , it didn't end well. Life on Mars?

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Earthquakes could be fueling life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. Scientists have shown that huge chunks of the moon’s ice crust could be sinking others, infusing its underground ocean with chemical food.

The earth’s crust is split into many distinct plates, the largest of which we know as continents. Tectonics describes the movement of these huge, deep pieces of rock, as they collide, submerge and fracture. The vast amounts of energy released by this activity causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Geophysicists from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, have shown that tectonic activity is also feasible within Europa’s ice shell. They used a computer simulation to map subduction—where one giant slab of ice is forced under another.

The research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets yesterday.

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× How extreme aliens living on Jupiter's water-rich moon Europa might look. "My modest thought about what kind of life might be at Europa involves the kinds of things that we see at heads of thermal vents [on Earth], mainly microorganisms," Steve Vance, who is a member of the Europa mission

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Europa’s tectonic features have been studied for a number of years. Previous studies have pointed towards the possibility of subduction. The moon’s icy surface is relatively smooth, suggesting it is frequently resurfaced by tectonic activity.

Subduction seemed a likely cause because of the ridges that cut through the moon’s oceans, the authors explained. Over many thousands of years, the earth’s tectonic plates have been pushed further and further apart. Huge undersea mountain systems mark this incredible movement today. Similar submarine ridges suggest the outer shell of Europa is expanding too.

Space Jupiter Second Spot © Associated Press Space Jupiter Second Spot "We have this evidence of extension and spreading, so the question becomes where does that material go?" Brandon Johnson, lead author of the study, said in a press release. "On Earth, the answer is subduction zones. What we show is that under reasonable assumptions for conditions on Europa, subduction could be happening there as well, which is really exciting."

The team created a sophisticated computer model of Europa, based on Earth’s tectonic activity. The team’s research suggests that, below the very cold surface of the moon, there is a slightly warmer layer of ice. Depending on the concentration of salt in the two crusts, slabs of warmer ice could be forced all the way down to the moon’s vast underground ocean. Salt encourages ice to conduct heat, which is why we salt snowy roads in winter.

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Jupiter's moon Europa has all the ingredients thought necessary for life . The icy body may get a visitor from Earth in the near future. This ocean is shielded from harmful radiation, making Europa one of the solar system's best bets to host alien life .

Missions to look for life on Jupiter's moon Europa may be early casualties as Congress and the White House battle over NASA funding. Here's why. Scientists are eager to learn if Europa 's huge subsurface ocean harbors alien life .

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Tectonics could provide alien food

Destructive as tectonics are on earth, the movement of plates could be fundamental to life on Europa. Scientists believe that the moon’s vast underground sea is potentially filled with organisms. On Earth, subduction can draw magma from below the crust. On Europa, it could draw life-filled water up from the sea with the icy crust infusing the water with chemical food.

"If indeed there's life in that ocean, subduction offers a way to supply the nutrients it would need," Johnson said.

Related Slideshow: Spectacular photos from space (Provided by Microsoft GES)

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