NASA’S James Webb Telescope Detects First Evidence Of Carbon On Jupiter’s Moon

Astronomers used the data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and identified carbon dioxide in a specific region on the icy surface of Europa.

In a groundbreaking discovery, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has detected the presence of carbon dioxide on Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy moons. Astronomers used the data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and identified carbon dioxide in a specific region on the icy surface of Europa, as per a NASA release.  As per, the team was able to use observations made in infrared with the JWST’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) instrument to determine that the carbon molecules were not delivered to Europa via meteorite impacts or other external sources.

Notably, this discovery has important implications for the potential habitability of Europa’s ocean.

Scientists were aware that a salty ocean of liquid water with a rocky seafloor lay beneath the icy shell of Europa. However, they had not confirmed if that ocean contained the chemicals needed for life, particularly carbon.

”On Earth, life likes chemical diversity – the more diversity, the better. We’re carbon-based life. Understanding the chemistry of Europa’s ocean will help us determine whether it’s hostile to life as we know it, or if it might be a good place for life,” said Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of one of two independent papers said in a statement. 

”We now think that we have observational evidence that the carbon we see on Europa’s surface came from the ocean. That’s not a trivial thing. Carbon is a biologically essential element.,” said Samantha Trumbo, lead author of a study analyzing the data. 

Webb found that on Europa’s surface, carbon dioxide is most abundant in a region called Tara Regio – a geologically young area of generally resurfaced terrain known as ”chaos terrain.” The surface ice has been disrupted, and there likely has been an exchange of material between the subsurface ocean and the icy surface.

”Previous observations from the Hubble Space Telescope show evidence for ocean-derived salt in Tara Regio. Now we’re seeing that carbon dioxide is heavily concentrated there as well. We think this implies that the carbon probably has its ultimate origin in the internal ocean,” explained Ms. Trumbo.

NASA now plans to launch the Europa Clipper mission in October 2024, which will perform dozens of close flybys of Europa to further investigate whether it could have conditions suitable for life.

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