Jupiter's moon Europa

Scientists have found diluted hydrogen peroxide across the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. The photo above shows Europa in natural color (left) and in enhanced color designed to bring out subtle color differences in the surface (right). (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona / April 5, 2013)

Hydrogen peroxide is used to clean counter tops here on Earth, but Jupiter’s moon Europa may use it for a more important endeavor — to supply energy to simple life forms.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech proposed the theory in a paper recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"Life as we know it needs liquid water, elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur, and it needs some form of chemical or light energy to get the business of life done," JPL scientist Kevin Hand said in a statement. "Europa has the liquid water and elements, and we think that compounds like peroxide might be an important part of the energy requirement. “

Hand, who co-authored the study with Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, said hydrogen peroxide was one oxidant that helped our own planet eventually become a home to complex forms of life.

Scientists detected the compound on the icy moon years ago, but only recently discovered how far it reached across the surface of the satellite. If life exists on Europa, scientists believe it could lie underneath the frozen surface in a salty ocean. And if the hydrogen peroxide and the water come together, it could create a perfect storm for creating life.

Brown spent a few nights in Hawaii in 2011, looking into the Keck II Telescope to find high concentrations of diluted peroxide in Europa.

"What we still don't know is how the surface and the ocean mix,” Brown said in a statement, “which would provide a mechanism for any life to use the peroxide." 

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