What happened?

Jupiter’s moon Europa, believed to have a salty ocean under its icy shell, has less oxygen on its surface than previously believed. This makes it less likely the planet harbors life, scientists said Monday in Nature Astronomy.

Who said what?

Europa’s oxygen is “on the lower end of what we would expect,” lead study author Jamey Szalay said to The New York Times. But “it’s not totally prohibitive” for hosting life.

One theory is Europa’s oxygen — formed when particles from space split frozen water molecules on the icy crust into hydrogen and oxygen — sinks down into the subterranean ocean, mixing with volcanic material to create a “chemical soup that may end up making life,” University of Colorado planetary scientist Fran Bagenal told the Times. “We don’t really know how much oxygen you need to make life,” she added. “So the fact that it’s lower than some earlier, wishful-thinking estimates is not such a problem.”

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What next?

NASA is scheduled to launch its Europa Clipper orbiter in October to gather more data from Jupiter’s moon, and the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer is expected to arrive in Europa’s neighborhood in 2031.

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