(taken, edited from space.com)
For decades, experts have known about the moon’s vast underground ocean — a possible home for living organisms — and now a study shows that the ocean regularly receives influxes of the energy required for life via chaotic processes near the moon’s surface.
Lead author Britney Schmidt, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, explained that her team studied ice shelves and underground volcanoes on Earth in order to model the formation of odd features called “chaos terrains” that appear all over Europa. The researchers determined that it was heat rising from the moon’s deep subterranean ocean and melting ice near the surface, creating briny lakes inside the moon’s thick ice shell, that may have caused the collapse of these roughly circular structures above them.
Europa’s liquid water ocean “meets one of the critical requirements for life,” [Astrobiologist Tori] Hoehler said, noting that its ocean chemistry is believed to be suitable for sustaining living things. “And what you’re hearing about today from Britney bears on a second crucial requirement, and that is the requirement for energy.”
This is presented without significant comment. It’s a fascinating discovery, demonstrating that the conditions suitable for life (at least as we may be able to understand it) may exist well outside the habitable zone. Alternatively, discoveries like this may help us redefine and broaden such areas of the solar system.
Whether there are any organic molecules in those oceans remains to be seen.