Jupiter’s icy moon may have had deliveries of pre-life ingredients thanks to penetrating comet impacts.
It’s easy to imagine that beneath the thick icy exterior of Jupiter’s moon Europa there could be an ocean teeming with peculiar extraterrestrial life forms unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
But if this were true then how did life start there and where did the vital building blocks come from ?
Scientists at Williams College in Massachusetts believe that comet impacts on Europa’s surface may be the key. By using a complex computer simulation they have been able to determine that over a long period of time there is a good chance that comets carrying the building blocks of life will have impacted the surface and penetrated down in to the ocean underneath.
Previously it had been thought that the moon’s icy crust would be too thick for this to happen, but by analyzing comet impacts across a range of ice thicknesses the researchers found that given enough time even ice up to 25 miles deep can be penetrated if there is a large enough impact.
In areas where the ice is thinner a number of smaller impacts could also make it through.
The team even found features on the surface of Europa that they believe could be evidence of actual impacts that had penetrated through the ice at some point in the moon’s distant past.
“This is good news for the astrobiology community because it means that exchange of material between the surface and underlying ocean is relatively easy, so that nutrients for a putative Europan biosphere can get in and samples of that biosphere may be ejected to the surface, within reach of future sample return missions,” said planetary impact expert Jay Melosh.