Scientists map sulfur residue on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa

SwRI scientists map sulfur residue on Jupiter's icy moon Europa

SwRI scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to image the surface of Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon Europa (shown lower right in this composite image) in ultraviolet, mapping the concentrations of sulfur dioxide on the surface that likely originated from Io (above), the ultravolcanic Jupiter moon. Credit: NASA

A team led by the Southwest Research Institute used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe Jupiter’s moon, Europa, at ultraviolet wavelengths, filling a “gap” in the different wavelengths used to observe this icy water world. The team’s near-global UV maps show concentrations of sulfur dioxide at the back of Europe.

SwRI will continue these studies using the Europa Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Europa-UVS), which will observe Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon from aboard NASA’s Europa Clipper, which is expected to launch in 2024. Scientists are almost certain that beneath the icy surface of Europa lies a saltwater ocean that contains almost twice as much water as in all of the Earth’s oceans. This moon is perhaps the most promising place in our solar system suitable for some form of life beyond Earth.

“The relatively young surface of Europa consists mainly of water ice, although other materials have been detected over the surface,” said Dr. Tracy Becker, lead author of a paper describing these UV observations. “Determining whether these other materials are native to Europe is important to understand the formation and subsequent evolution of Europa.”

Assessing the surface material can provide insight into the composition of the subsurface ocean. SwRI’s dataset is the first to provide a near-global map of sulfur dioxide that correlates with large-scale dark regions in both the visible and ultraviolet wavelengths

“The results were not surprising, but we got much better coverage and resolution than previous observations,” said Dr. Philippa Molyneux of SwRI, a co-author of the paper. “Most of the sulfur dioxide is seen in the ‘lagging’ hemisphere of Europa. It’s likely concentrated there because Jupiter’s co-rotating magnetic field traps sulfur particles spewing from Io’s volcanoes and slamming them against the back of Europa.”

Io is one of the largest moons of Jupiter, but on the other hand, it is considered the most volcanic body in the solar system. Jupiter’s magnetic field can lead to: chemical reactions between the water ice and the sulfur, creating sulfur dioxide on the surface of Europa.

“In addition to studying the Sulphur dioxide on the surface we continue to try to understand the puzzle of why Europe – which has a surface known to be dominated by water ice – does not look Like it water ice at ultraviolet wavelengths, as confirmed by this paper,” Becker said. “We are actively working to understand why.”

The research was published in The Planetary Science Magazine


Ultraviolet instrument to be an integral part of NASA’s Europa Clipper mission


More information:
Tracy M. Becker et al, Mid-ultraviolet Hubble Observations of Europe and the Global Surface Distribution of SO2The Planetary Science Magazine (2022). DOI: 10.3847/PSJ/ac69eb/meta

Quote: Scientists map sulfur residue on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa (2022, June 22) retrieved June 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-scientists-sulphur-residue-jupiter-icy.html

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