Volcanic mountains

Jupiter’s volcanic moon could spit sulfur on its icy neighbor Europa

Researchers have mapped material on the back of Jupiter’s moon Europa, revealing that sulfur detected on its surface likely came from Io, a volcanically active large Jovian moon.

By using the The Hubble Space Telescopea team led by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) observed Europe in ultraviolet wavelengths, filling a void in the various wavelengths used to observe the ice-water world.

This effort produced the first near-global map of sulfur dioxide over Europe. Although this is not the first time this compound has been detected over Europa, the map shows solid-state sulfur dioxide with better coverage and resolution than previous observations. Concentrations of the material also correlate with darker large-scale regions in the visible and ultraviolet wavelengths.

Related: NASA spacecraft takes stunning new photo of Jupiter’s moons Io and Europa

The results revealed that the sulfur probably springs from Iothe solar systemthe most volcanically active body, and is then ionized and taken into Jupitermagnetic field. It is then transported to Europa, where it reacts with water from the frozen crust of the icy moon to form sulfur dioxide.

But it is also possible that the compound originated from under the surface of Europa.

“Europe’s relatively young surface is mostly composed of water ice, although other materials have been detected on its surface,” said Tracy Becker, planetary scientist at SwRI and lead author of a paper describing the UV observations. , said in a statement (opens in a new tab). “Determining whether these other materials originated in Europe is important for understanding the formation of Europa and its subsequent evolution.”

The greatest concentrations of sulfur dioxide found on Europa’s trailing hemisphere as it orbits Jupiter suggest that the sulfur originated in Io.

“Most of the sulfur dioxide is visible on the ‘trail’ hemisphere of Europe,” Philippa Molyneux, SwRI scientist and co-author of the paper, said in the statement. “It’s probably concentrated there because Jupiter’s co-rotating magnetic field traps sulfur particles spewing from Io’s volcanoes and slams them against Europa’s rear.”

SwRI intends to build on these studies using the Europa ultraviolet spectrograph. This instrument will observe Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon as part of NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2024 and arrive in the Jupiter system in 2030.

Scientists are almost certain that hidden beneath Europa’s icy surface is a salt-water ocean containing nearly twice as much water as all of Earth’s oceans. The Jovian moon is thus considered one of the most promising places for search for life beyond the earth.

The research was published June 2 in The Journal of Planetary Science (opens in a new tab).

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