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Jupiter’s moon Ganymede may have layered oceans that support life

Published time: May 04, 2014 01:31
Edited time: May 06, 2014 20:04
Images of Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, from the Galileo and Voyager space missions show a bright flat surface (Reuters / NASA)

Images of Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, from the Galileo and Voyager space missions show a bright flat surface (Reuters / NASA)

Ganymede – the largest moon in our solar system – may possess ice and liquid oceans which scientists say are stacked up like a multi-layered club sandwich and may contain life.

Scientists from a NASA-funded research team performed a computer modeling of Ganymede's oceans, taking into account for the first time how salt increases the density of liquids under extreme conditions that exist on the planet.

Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system and is bigger than the planet Mercury, with a diameter of about 5,300 kilometers.

NASA first suspected there might be an ocean on Ganymede in the 1970s. Then, in the 1990s, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft mission flew by Ganymede, confirming it did have an ocean extending to depths of hundreds of miles. The Galileo mission also found evidence of salty seas, which may contain magnesium sulfate.

Scientists then thought Ganymede had a thick ocean sandwich between just two layers of ice. However, the new research suggests there may be more layers than that.

The research first appeared last year in the journal Planetary and Space Science and was led by Steve Vance of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Ganymede’s ocean might be organized like a Dagwood sandwich,” said Vance.

This artist's concept of Jupiter's moon Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, illustrates the "club sandwich" model of its interior oceans. (Reuters / NASA)

This new theory means that there is the possibility of life on the icy moon. Previously, the rocky sea bottom of Ganymede was thought to be coated with ice, not liquid, which would be a problem for the emergence of life. But the new “club sandwich” theory means the first layer on top of the rocky core may in fact be salty water.

Ganymede boasts a lot of water, perhaps 25 times the volume of the earth’s oceans. The moon's oceans are also estimated to be up to 800 kilometers deep.

The makeup of its deep oceans could be something like a layer of ice at the top, a layer of water below that, then a second layer of ice, followed by another layer of water, then a layer of ice and a final layer of water at the bottom.

“This is good news for Ganymede. Its ocean is huge, with enormous pressures, so it was thought that dense ice had to form at the bottom of the ocean. When we added salts to our models, we came up with liquids dense enough to sink to the sea floor,” said Vance.

Salty water sloshing about on top of rock may provide conditions suitable for microbial life. Some scientists have predicted that life on Earth may have formed in bubbling thermal vents on the ocean floor.

Ganymede is just one of five moons in our solar system thought to support vast oceans hidden beneath icy crusts. The others are Jupiter’s Europa and Callisto, and Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus.

The European Space Agency is developing a mission to visit Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede. The mission is currently scheduled for a 2022 launch, and is expected to reach Jupiter in 2030. NASA plans to contribute instruments to it.

Comments (17)


Claude A Pruneau 02.09.2014 18:38

These comments are useless and manifest your angry ignorance. Sure NASA needs and wants funding. It actually produces a lot of excellent science. Scientists like everybody else have diverse interests and not all of them can work on feeding the planet. Besides, it would not hepl because people like those who make the angry and disparaging comments posted here must also take responsibility and stop bitching ...


Milo 14.05.2014 05:30

Kam Musser 04.05.2014 18:14

And you're more qualified than NASA how?


Ma rk is right and I do know. During my involvement with NASA in 1985 it was apparent that the prime objective of all departments was to secure funding.

Th ere were constant ongoing jokes about who could come up with the most outrageous theory to 'tweak' the public interest and secure funding.

Th e catch phrase of most dev teams was "close enough is good enough".


Milo 14.05.2014 05:17

More useless theories from NASA.

How do they expect us to believe this and also expect us to believe with all the high-tech in the world we can't find a Boeing 777-200ER.

Lies, lies, lies and more lies.

View all comments (17)
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