Lashings of salt on Jupiter’s moon

Date:19 June 2019 Author: Sam Spiller Tags:, , , , , , , , , ,

No need to take this with a pinch of salt. Scientists have discovered the presence of sodium chloride on the lunar surface.

Of all the moons that orbit our planetary neighbours, Europa is one that has received special attention by scientists. One of Jupiter’s 79 moons, it is notable for having the smoothest body mass of any planet in the solar system, and is considered a prime candidate for supporting life.

That smooth surface is thanks to an ocean, located underneath the planet’s icy crust. The chemicals that make up this ocean are kept in a liquid state due to heat that is generated by a process called tidal flexing, and its presence is the best way to work out what’s happening on the surface above. A new discovery has shown that Europa’s ocean may be more similar to Earth’s oceans than originally thought.

In a new study published by Science Advances, scientists have used an imaging spectrograph, a device found on the Hubble Space Telescope, to scan Europa in infrared light. What they found was the “spectral signature” of irradiated sodium chloride. In other words, sea salt.

The experiment and discovery goes back to 2015, when scientist Kevin Hand exposed sodium chloride in Europa-like conditions to radiation. The sodium chloride changed colour to closely resemble the shade of a newly formed area of Europa called Tara Regio. This evidence points to the possibility that in order to produce the salt, Europa’s ocean has hydrothermal vents similar to the ones found on Earth.

Though it may not yet fully prove that Europa is capable of sustaining human life, it is a big step in understanding the moon’s environment and its natural processes. Hopefully this will all become clear in 2020, when NASA will launch its Europa Clipper to travel to the planet and make a landing. This journey has been estimated to take about three to seven years.

Source: Science Advances

Images: Pixabay

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