The Loh Down On Science

What lurks below the surface of an icy moon will surprise you!

Whoa—is there life on the moon?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down On Science, saying, no, not about our moon but Jupiter’s second-largest moon, Europa. 

Astronomers suspect that its icy surface hides a vast ocean.  And where there's water, there could be life.

Enter Caltech astronomer Mike Brown.  Remember him?  He’s the guy who killed Pluto!  But don’t worry—this time out, he and colleague Kevin Hand just wanted look more closely at Europa’s icy shell.  How?  With a powerful telescope high atop a Hawaiian volcano.

They found a mysterious chemical signature never seen before.  To find out what it might be, they tested all kinds of chemicals in the lab—including Drano!

Their conclusion?  Epsom salt!  Or, technically speaking, the mineral called epsomite.  They think it most likely bubbled up from the ocean below.  That would mean that the surface and the ocean regularly exchange chemicals. 

It means if you could lick Europa's icy exterior, it would taste salty.  As to whether there’s life in that moon’s ocean?  Who knows?  But I hope they like pretzels!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

This Thursday, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Christina Schwarz about her book The Edge of the Earth.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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