From the Arctic to Jupiter’s Europa moon

A Canadian fjord may help scientists improve their understanding of Jupiter’s icy Europa moon.

Indeed, it isn’t easy to locate a place on Earth where ice and sulphur co-exist. Nevertheless, the Borup Fjord Pass in the Canadian High Arctic is home to sulfurous yellow emissions – which sharply contrast with the whiteness of the environment.

According to Damhnait Gleeson of the Centro de Astrobiologia, scientists have verified that sulphur involved in the life cycle of Arctic microorganisms contain certain characteristics that could help space agencies detect biological remains on Europa.

“We have discovered that elemental sulphur (S) can contain morphological, mineralogical and organic ‘biosignatures’ linked to bacterial activity,” she explained. “If they are found on Europa, this would suggest the possible presence of microorganisms.”

The ‘bio-signatures’ are typically associated with needle and rhomboid sulphur shapes in which mineralized remains of microorganisms and extracellular material appears.

Thanks to electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction techniques, the formation of a rare type of sulphur has also been observed in association with organic components: the rosickyite. In addition, small quantities (parts per million) of protein, fatty acids and other biomolecules have  been detected in the sulphurous material.

“There is much evidence of bacterial activity. [Perhaps] in Europa’s icy crust, or the ocean or lakes supposedly beneath it, there could be a similar microbial community that uses sulphur as their source of energy,” she added.