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51 Pegasi b Fellow Dr. Samantha Trumbo Identifies Internal Carbon Source on Europa

Jupiter’s moon Europa has a subsurface ocean thought to contain twice the amount of water of Earth’s oceans. But scientists had not been able to confirm if the ocean contains biologically essential chemicals for life as we know it, particularly carbon, until now.

Dr. Samantha Trumbo, a 51 Pegasi b Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University, and other astronomers using data from NASA’s JWST telescope, have identified carbon dioxide in a specific, recently-resurfaced region on the icy surface of Europa called Tara Regio. Their analysis, which was published in Science, indicates that the carbon likely originated in Europa’s subsurface ocean, a discovery that signals a potentially habitable environment.

“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 Dr. Trumbo, lead author of one of two independent papers describing the findings.

Find out more about this important discovery in the published paper, and JWST’s news release.

Galileo image of Europa’s surface showing Tara Regio (yellow region on the left side of both images). Tara Regio is a geologically young and resurfaced area thought to exchange material with the subsurface ocean. Dr. Trumbo previously detected sodium chloride (table salt) in this region with the Hubble Space Telescope indicating that the subsurface ocean may contain the same major salt as Earth’s ocean. Dr. Trumbo’s new discovery of carbon dioxide in this region with JWST data indicates that the internal ocean contains carbon as well, providing a step toward understanding its habitability.

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