According to a new research, the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa may have plate tectonics similar to those on Earth, which could have important implications for the possibility of life in the ocean thought to exist beneath the moon's surface.
The study used computer modelling to show that subduction, when a tectonic plate slides underneath another and sinks deep into a planet's interior, is physically possible in Europa's ice shell as well. The study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
The findings support earlier studies of Europa's surface geology that found regions where the moon's ice shell was noted to be expanding in a similar way to the mid-ocean spreading ridges on Earth.
Speaking on the development, the lead author of the study, Brandon Johnson said that they have evidence of this extension and spreading, which raises a question on where does the material go.
He further explained by saying that on Earth, the answer is subduction zones. So going by the same reasoning, subduction could be happening on Europa as well.
Moreover, Johnson added that the moon’s surface crust is enriched with oxidants and other chemical food for life and subduction provides a means for that food to come into contact with the subsurface, which ocean scientists think probably exists under Europa's ice.
"If indeed there's life in that ocean, subduction offers a way to supply the nutrients it would need," Johnson said.