New map shows sulfur distribution over the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa

(ORDO NEWS) — In the new study, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope (Hubble) made observations in the ultraviolet range of the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, thus filling in previously missing observational data in this part of the spectrum.

The map, built by the team, covering almost the entire surface of the satellite, shows an increased concentration of sulfur dioxide on the “back” side of Europa.

Scientists will continue these studies using an instrument called Europa Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Europa-UVS), designed to observe the surface of Jupiter’s fourth largest moon from NASA’s Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in 2024.

Astronomers are almost certain that under the icy surface of Europa lies an ocean of salt water, the volume of which can be approximately twice the total volume of all the oceans of the Earth. This moon of Jupiter is one of the most promising places to search for extraterrestrial life in the solar system.

“The relatively young surface of Europa is mostly water ice, although we have found other materials on it,” said lead author of the new study, Dr. Tracy Becker of the Southwestern Research Institute, USA. “In order to understand the formation and subsequent evolution of Europa, it is necessary to understand whether these materials were present on the moon of Jupiter from the very beginning or were delivered later.”

Estimating the composition of surface material can help understand the composition of the subsurface ocean.

The data obtained by Dr. Becker and her team for the first time made it possible to compile a global map of the distribution of sulfur dioxide, which is in good agreement with large-scale dark areas observed in both visible and ultraviolet light.

As it turned out, the main part of sulfur dioxide is concentrated in the “rear” hemisphere in relation to the direction of the satellite’s orbit around Jupiter.

The concentration is likely because Jupiter’s co-rotating magnetic field captures sulfur particles produced by volcanoes that erupt on Io’s surface and sends them toward the “back” hemisphere of Europa, Becker and colleagues say.

Io is another of the largest moons of Jupiter, but this moon of Jupiter is almost the complete opposite of Europa – it is considered the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Jupiter’s magnetic field can cause chemical reactions between water ice and sulfur, resulting in the formation of sulfur dioxide on Europa’s surface.


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