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First direct measurement proves oxygen production on Jupiter’s moon

Jupiter's moon Europa actually produces oxygen. This has been proven by an international research team with Swiss participation with the first direct measurement of oxygen on the icy moon, which is over 600 million kilometers away from Earth.

"Europe thus remains the focus of the search for extraterrestrial life," said Audrey Vorburger from the University+ of Bern at the request of the Keystone-SDA news agency. The astrophysicist was involved in the study, which was published on Monday in the journal "Nature Astronomy".

Earlier missions to Jupiter suggest that there is an ocean under the more than ten-kilometer-thick layer of ice. And where there are oceans, life is theoretically possible. The presence of oxygen is crucial to the question of whether life is possible on Europa.

"Oxygen could serve as a source of energy," explained Vorburger. This is because oxygen releases energy when it reacts with other substances, such as carbon or hydrogen. On Earth, the sun's energy is the main driving force for life. "However, Jupiter's moons are so far away from light that they need another source of energy," said Vorburger.

Until now, oxygen on the icy moon has only been measured indirectly, with telescopes from Earth and also with the Hubble telescope from space. According to Vorburger, the new measurement of oxygen on Europa is the first direct measurement. It was carried out by the NASA probe "Juno", which flew past Jupiter's moon Europa at a distance of 353 kilometers.

Less oxygen than expected

The oxygen was measured in ionized form. From this, the researchers calculated how much oxygen occurs in neutral form. From this data, they calculated that around twelve kilograms of oxygen are produced on the surface of Europe every second. This is at the lower end of expectations, which ranged from five to 1100 kilograms per second.

Nevertheless, the results were positive, Vorburger emphasized. This is because the presence of oxygen, not the quantity, is important for the question of whether life is possible on this moon.

Further findings are expected from the "Juice" mission, in which Vorburger is also involved. The "Juice" space probe has been on its way to Jupiter's icy moons since April 2023. However, it will be some time before "Juice" reaches the icy moon. The entire journey will take around eight years.

©Keystone/SDA

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