Determining the habitability of Europa’s subsurface ocean is one of the key priorities for astrobiology in our Solar System. Understanding life’s potential on Europa comes down to determining the composition of the moon’s ocean. Scientists are delving into this question by simulating some of the conditions that are likely to exist when fluids are emplaced on Europa’s icy surface.

A team of researchers recently experimented with mixed solutions of sodium, magnesium, sulphate and chloride that were frozen to 100 Kelvin (-173°C). The work provides clues about how these solutions crystalize and the resulting minerals that can be formed. These results could help astrobiologists understand details about the liquid ocean by examining the ice at the moon’s surface.

The study, “Chemistry of frozen sodium-magnesium-sulfate-chloride brines: Implications for surface expression of Europa’s ocean composition,” was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The research was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.