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article imageIce, liquid found on Jupiter's moon Ganymede, may harbor life

By Nora Meszaros     May 5, 2014 in Science
Think Mars is the ultimate life-harboring planet in our solar system? Think again. Recent findings from NASA indicate there may be life on not one, but two of Jupiter’s moons.
Following confirmation last year by NASA that Jupiter’s icy moon Europa may harbor life, NASA released findings on Friday that Jupiter’s moon Ganymede has ice and liquid, which may indicate that the moon harbors life.
Described as a “multilayered club sandwich” by Reuters, the ice and liquid on Ganymede span for oceans and are stacked up in several layers — an arrangement that raises a strong chance that the icy moon harbors life.
Subsurface oceans on moons is nothing new, with previous discoveries like this being made on Jupiter’s Europa, as well as Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus. Ganymede has been known to be a host to water ever since NASA’s Galileo Mission to Jupiter between 1989 and 2003. According to Universe Today, Galileo flew by Ganymede in 2000 and data confirmed the moons oceans to hundreds of miles in depth.
Additional evidence of salty seas (magnesium sulfate) surfaced by the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until a new study concluded Friday that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced new data. NASA astrobiologist Steve Vance said in a NASA press release that the “stacked oceans” support the idea that primitive life could have possibly arisen on Ganymede.
Ganymede’s oceans have been technologically rendered through computer modelling and simulated experiments in a laboratory drew NASA conclusions on the potentially sustainable moon, Reuters reports.
Although unsure of exactly how many layers of liquid and ice appear on Ganymede, different densities of the liquid appear to be prevalent in the moon’s layered subsurface. According to the Daily Mail UK, the different densities balance so that the top layer is ice similar to ice cubes, while most of its density comes from beneath. Essentially this could create a strange effect where it “snowed upwards” on Ganymede, Daily Mail reports.
Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system — In fact, Ganymede is bigger than Mercury and can be seen easily with the naked eye from Earth. Ganymede contains an icy shell which could spark “interesting chemical reactions,” possibly like the kind that “led to the rise of life on Earth,” reports. These predictions may not be unlikely, considering Ganymede’s oceans have 25 times the volume of Earth’s oceans, according to CNN.
Since NASA’s experiments only led to further speculation that Jupiter’s moon could harbor life, perhaps the best thing to do is wait for confirmation from the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, which the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch by 2022, reports.
ESA officials told that the highly ambitious space mission is expected to reach Jupiter by 2030, spending three years minimum studying the planet’s major moons. The mission is the first of the ESA’s Cosmic Vision science program, announced on May 2, 2012.
More about Jupiter, Ganymede, moons, Solar system, Universe
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