Ozone Discovery by Ahmedabad PRL Scientists on Jupiter’s Callisto Hints at Potential for Life

This finding on Ozone discovery not only confirms the presence of oxygen on Callisto, a crucial ingredient for life as we know it, but also hints at a potentially stable atmosphere


Ahmedabad : Scientists have unearthed a tantalizing clue in the ongoing quest for extraterrestrial life: the presence of ozone on Jupiter’s moon Callisto. An international team led by researchers from the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, India, published their groundbreaking findings in the March 2024 issue of the journal Icarus. This discovery sheds light on the complex chemical processes at play on Callisto’s icy surface and raises exciting possibilities for its potential to harbor life.

The research team, spearheaded by Dr. R. Ramachandran of PRL’s Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics Division, focused on simulating the conditions on Callisto’s surface. They investigated how sulfur dioxide (SO2) ice evolves under radiation, mimicking the bombardment of solar rays the moon experiences. To achieve this, the team conducted experiments at the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center (NSRRC) in Taiwan. NSRRC’s high-energy radiation sources were crucial for recreating the harsh ultraviolet radiation environment on Callisto.

The experiment involved depositing SO2 ice samples on a lithium fluoride substrate within a low-pressure chamber. These samples were then bombarded with vacuum ultraviolet photons, replicating solar radiation. To account for potential variations in Callisto’s environment, the team meticulously controlled the temperature. The ice samples were first chilled to a bone-chilling 9 Kelvin (-264.15°C), mirroring the frigid conditions on Callisto’s surface. Subsequently, the temperature was gradually raised to 120 Kelvin to observe how the chemical reactions played out under warmer scenarios.

Throughout the experiment, the researchers meticulously monitored the chemical transformations using a technique called ultraviolet absorption spectroscopy. This involved analyzing the ultraviolet light absorbed by the irradiated ice samples. The analysis revealed a distinct signature, a telltale sign of ozone (O3) formation within the samples.

This finding not only confirms the presence of oxygen on Callisto, a crucial ingredient for life as we know it, but also hints at a potentially stable atmosphere. The formation of ozone occurs when ultraviolet radiation splits oxygen molecules (O2) into individual oxygen atoms, which then recombine to form ozone. This process suggests the existence of an oxygen-rich atmosphere on Callisto, a factor considered essential for the development of complex organic molecules, potentially paving the way for life.

The team’s findings resonate with earlier observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1997, which hinted at the presence of both sulfur dioxide and ozone on Callisto’s surface. The current research strengthens this notion and opens a new chapter in our understanding of this enigmatic moon.

The discovery of ozone on Callisto holds immense significance for our understanding of extraterrestrial life. It compels us to re-evaluate the potential for life to exist in environments previously considered uninhabitable. This finding rekindles the flame of hope in our search for life beyond Earth and underscores the importance of further exploration of Callisto and other moons within our solar system.