A Southwest Research Institute-led team used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe Jupiter’s moon, Europa, at ultraviolet wavelengths, at different wavelengths than those used to observe this icy water world. Fills a “gap”. The team’s near-global UV maps show concentrations of sulfur dioxide on the back side of Europa.
SwRI will further these studies using the Europa Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Europa-UVS), which will observe Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon, from NASA’s Europa Clipper, to be launched in 2024. Scientists are almost certain that there is a saltwater ocean beneath Europa’s icy surface. Nearly twice as much water as all of Earth’s oceans. This moon may be the most promising place in our solar system suitable for some form of life beyond Earth.
“Europa’s relatively young surface is composed primarily of water ice, although other materials have been detected on its surface,” said Dr. Tracy Baker, lead author of a paper describing these UV observations. “Determining whether these other materials are native to Europa is important for understanding Europa’s formation and subsequent evolution.”
Assessment of surface content can provide insight into the composition of the subsurface ocean. SwRI’s dataset is the first to produce a near-global map of sulfur dioxide that correlates to deep regions on a large scale in both visible and ultraviolet wavelengths.
“The results were not surprising, but we found much better coverage and resolution than previous observations,” said SWRI’s Dr. Philippe Molyneux, a co-author of the paper. “Most of the sulfur dioxide is seen over Europa’s ‘backward’ hemisphere. It is probably concentrated there because Jupiter’s co-rotating magnetic field traps sulfur particles from Io’s volcanoes and slams them backwards toward Europa. “
Io is one of Jupiter’s largest moons, but in contrast, is considered the most volcanic body in the Solar System. Jupiter’s magnetic field can cause chemical reactions between water ice and sulfur, forming sulfur dioxide on Europa’s surface.
“In addition to studying the sulfur dioxide at the surface, we are trying to understand the puzzle of why Europa – which has a surface known to be dominated by water ice – is not See such as water ice at ultraviolet wavelengths, as confirmed by this paper,” Baker said. “We are actively working to understand why.”
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