A new paper led by a NASA researcher shows that hydrogen peroxide is abundant across much of the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The scientists argue that if the peroxide on the surface of Europa mixes into the ocean below, it could be an important energy supply for simple forms of life, if life were to exist there. “Life as we know it needs liquid water, elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur, and it needs some form of chemical or light energy to get the business of life done,” said Kevin Hand from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Europa has the liquid water and elements, and we think that compounds like peroxide might be an important part of the energy requirement. The availability of oxidants like peroxide on Earth was a critical part of the rise of complex, multicellular life.” Hydrogen peroxide was first detected on Europa by NASA’s Galileo mission, which explored the Jupiter system from 1995 to 2003, but Galileo observations were of a limited region. The new results show that peroxide is widespread across much of the surface of Europa and that the highest concentrations are reached in regions where Europa’s ice is nearly pure water with little sulfur contamination.
The scientists think hydrogen peroxide is an important factor for the habitability of the global liquid water ocean under Europa’s icy crust because hydrogen peroxide decays to oxygen when mixed into liquid water.
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