Life may 'hide' beneath Jupiter moon crust

April 4, 2012 at 6:14 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., April 4 (UPI) -- Extraterrestrial life in the solar system may be hiding beneath the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa, safe from blasts of radiation, U.S. researchers say.

The frozen moon is subject to constant and significant blasts of radiation from Jupiter's magnetic field that could annihilate life at shallow depths, so scientists are conducting an experiment to determine how deep life must lie beneath the crust to survive.

Jupiter's magnetosphere bombards the moon with high-energy electrons in the megaelectron volt (MeV) range, so scientists say they want to know how deep into ice such radiation can penetrate.

"Simple theories of how deep the electrons go are only known for very high energy electrons," said Murthy Gudipati of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"Even in the megaelectron volt range, we do not have any laboratory data that has been measured on ices containing organic matter, which is really important for astrobiology."

Gudipati and his team placed organic detector molecules behind ice of varying thickness, then fired an electron gun at them.

They found radiation of 100 MeV will penetrate between 23 and 32 inches of ice.

While that seems insignificant, it means if a lander sent to Europa dug only 2 feet into the ice crust in search of life, it most likely wouldn't find any because electrons should have destroyed any organics in that region, online science magazine Astrobiology reported.

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