Europe produces less oxygen than previously thought | Trending Viral hub

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Using data from the Jovian aurora distributions experiment (JADE) onboard instrument NASA’s Juno spacecraftPlanetary scientists have calculated that the rate of oxygen produced on Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon, is substantially lower than most previous studies.

This illustration shows charged particles from Jupiter impacting the surface of Europa, splitting frozen water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen molecules;  Scientists believe that some of these newly created oxygen gases could migrate into the moon's underground ocean, as shown in the inset image.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/PU.

This illustration shows charged particles from Jupiter impacting the surface of Europa, splitting frozen water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen molecules; Scientists believe that some of these newly created oxygen gases could migrate into the moon’s underground ocean, as shown in the inset image. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/PU.

With an equatorial diameter of 3,100 km (1,940 mi), Europa is the fourth largest of Jupiter’s 95 known moons and the smallest of the four Galilean satellites.

The moon hosts an internal liquid ocean with potentially habitable conditions beneath an icy crust.

Its surface is constantly bombarded by radiation that breaks down the icy crust into oxygen and hydrogen, most of which is released from the surface, escapes into space, or is left behind to form Europa’s atmosphere.

The abundance of these atmospheric gases and ions (and consequently their production rate at the surface) has been largely inferred from remote sensing observations and has large uncertainties.

“Europe is like an ice ball slowly losing its water in a stream,” said JADE scientist Dr. Jamey Szalay, a researcher at Princeton University.

“But in this case the current is a fluid of ionized particles swept around Jupiter by its extraordinary magnetic field.”

“When these ionized particles impact Europa, they break down the water ice molecule by molecule on the surface to produce hydrogen and oxygen.”

“In a sense, the entire ice sheet is continually eroded by waves of charged particles reaching it.”

In the new study, Dr. Szalay and his colleagues analyzed data from a flyby of Europa by the Juno spacecraft on September 29, 2022, in which the spacecraft flew 353 km (219 miles) above the surface of Europe.

Using the JADE instrument, they extracted the abundance of several capture ions, which are charged particles generated by the breakdown of atmospheric neutrals when they collide with energetic radiation or other particles.

From these data, they calculate that approximately 12 kg of oxygen are produced on the surface of Europa every second.

This is at the lower end of expectations deduced from previous models which ranged between 5 and 1,100 kg per second.

The results indicate that there may be less oxygen on Europa’s surface than previously thought, and that this implies a narrower range to support habitability in Europa’s ocean.

“Our ability to fly close to the Galilean satellites during our extended mission allowed us to begin addressing a wide range of science, including some unique opportunities to contribute to Europa’s habitability research,” said Juno principal investigator Dr. Scott Bolton, researcher at the Southwest Research Institute.

“And we’re not done yet. “More flybys of the moon and the first exploration of Jupiter’s nearby ring and polar atmosphere are still to come.”

He recommendations were published in the magazine Nature Astronomy.

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JR Szalay et al. Oxygen production from the dissociation of Europa’s surface water ice. Nat Astron, published online March 4, 2024; doi:10.1038/s41550-024-02206-x

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