View Full Version : Discussion: Could Europa Be Corrosive to Life?

2004-Feb-19, 10:04 PM
SUMMARY: Scientists are keen to explore Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, because it seems to have vast oceans of liquid water which could be a home for life. New analysis of the surface has found the presence of hydrogen peroxide and strong acids which could kill life. The scientists who discovered it are unsure if these corrosive chemicals are just a light dusting on the surface of the moon, or a large component of its ice-covered oceans. Another problem with the search for life is the discovery that the ice might be much thicker than previously thought - perhaps as thick as 10 to 30 km - which would make exploring very difficult.

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2004-Feb-19, 10:59 PM
They say that some bacteria in can survive as low as PH0 which they think the environment may be there.

I'm not expecting that there's life on Europa, but I wonder why different conditions rule out life. One reason for this environment being that it would destroy organic compounds, I realise. What I wonder is, could something evolve in an environment like that to be resiliant to the conditions.

I'm kind of expecting a flat no, but I also wonder (slightly different topic but) why does life have to be carbon based, why could it not be based on another element?

Sorry if I'm straying, but does anyone have any ideas?

Also, anyone got any ideas on how long it would take to get something all the way to Europa, from research and development to arrival? I'm guessing it would be a pretty long wait.

Gosh, I'm just full of questions!! :rolleyes:

John LaCour
2004-Feb-19, 11:51 PM
The reason that NASA and the biology community have been so interested in searching for life on Mars and Europa, is that the terrestrial biologists have been finding that wherever on Earth you can find water you will find some form of life.

From the hottest and driest deserts to the coldest mountain peaks, in the deapths of the oceans and miles below the surface of the Earth in rocks, inside the boiling water of hot springs and gysers and beneath the tundra of Siberia we have found bacteria that survive and thrive. All of these locations have in common is a little water. That is why the Mars Exploration Rovers and Europes satelitle are all searching for signs of water.

As for Non-Carbon life, if you look at the periodic table of elements, Silicon is in the same group as Carbon (it has the same number of electrons in its out shell), and there has been speculation that some form of complex life generating chemistry could occur with Silicon as its base. No example has ever been found on Earth, though.

The kicker is that if we find life ANYWHERE that is not Earth, then chances are life is EVERYWHERE in the universe! Personally I think it will be a new space based telescope examining the reflected light from an exoplanet's atmosphere that will discover the first signs of life beyond Earth.

As for finding signs of life in our solar system, we would need to know what to look for, beyond our narrow Carbon based view. Life has the tendency to bring together elements that don't normally congregate by natural processess. Carbon, Oxygen, Iron, Sulfer, Phosphorus, and others are common in all complex life on Earth, but are never naturally found together in the forms that life combines them.

Until we find that, or an alien fossil (or living alien) is discovered then we will continue to have those that insist that in a galaxy with anywhere from 100 billion to 400 billion stars, in a universe with 100's of billions of galaxies (and those are just the ones we can see), that we in all of existence are the only life in the universe. As Carl Sagan once said, "That sounds like an aweful waste of space to me."

2004-Feb-20, 12:48 AM
Thanks for the post John - that's very interesting :)

What I'm curious about is why the scientists can't tell if the corrosive chemicals are abundant or not... presumably then, the studies only revealed the presence of the chemicals rather than the quantity? Anyone know how this works?

stephen ayers
2004-Feb-20, 08:14 AM
JUST HAVING A LAUGH.... ITS A FACINATING SUBJECT :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :D ;)

2004-Feb-20, 12:28 PM
light reflected from the moon's icy surface bears the spectral fingerprints of hydrogen peroxide and strong acids, perhaps close to pH 0, if liquid.

So they just caught of a whiff of them when it was too late I guess, like when you smell the choclate cake after it's been carted past you! :(

I realise different elements etc produce different signatures, does this work in a similar way to the light spectrum?

(As you can probably tell, I have lots of piece of info and I use this site to link them together!) :)

John LaCour
2004-Feb-20, 02:42 PM
Originally posted by DippyHippy@Feb 20 2004, 12:48 AM
What I'm curious about is why the scientists can't tell if the corrosive chemicals are abundant or not... presumably then, the studies only revealed the presence of the chemicals rather than the quantity? Anyone know how this works?
The Galileo space craft only made a few passes over parts of Europa and did not do a comprehensive survey of the entire moon. If you've seen some of the Galileo images you'll notice that the very detailed images are superimposed over much lower resolution pictures. The low res images are from the Voyager flybys.

2004-Feb-21, 05:43 PM
that would be so cool if we could find life on Europa that would mean that life probable is abondent in our galaxy. B)

2004-Feb-28, 12:58 AM
Well damn and double damn. I had lost hope for Mars because of the radiation. Then, really had my heart set on Europa and now it's full of acid. Where to next for the possibility of colonization, Io?

2004-Feb-29, 10:43 PM
Just musing -- although hydrogen peroxide and other acids would be harmful to life on Earth, I wonder if the compounds could be used by organisms as a kind of nutrient, similar to the bacteria in the black smokers found at the bottom of Earth's oceans. Mind you I think the Earthly bacteria uses dissolved compounds of sulfer, but I wonder if a similar use could be made of the acidy compounds by bacteria on/in Europa's ocean.

2004-Mar-01, 07:50 AM
Perhaps the liquid is indeed differientated, the deeper one gets, providing sections where life could flourish. But I do agree with Duane, that maybe life had evolved there to adapt to what we consider as poisons.

2004-Mar-01, 02:53 PM
I know I watch much too much science fiction. But often in Sci-Fi, life evolves in the strangest places. If we look around our own world, life is prevalent in places thought of as impossible in the past.

Life is persistant, and I'm inclined to agree with you two (Damienpaul + Duane).