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Published April 2013 | Published + Submitted
Journal Article Open

Salts and Radiation Products on the Surface of Europa


The surface of Europa could contain the compositional imprint of an underlying interior ocean, but competing hypotheses differ over whether spectral observations from the Galileo spacecraft show the signature of ocean evaporates or simply surface radiation products unrelated to the interior. Using adaptive optics at the W. M. Keck Observatory, we have obtained spatially resolved spectra of most of the disk of Europa at a spectral resolution ~40 times higher than seen by the Galileo spacecraft. These spectra show a previously undetected distinct signature of magnesium sulfate salts on Europa, but the magnesium sulfate is confined to the trailing hemisphere and spatially correlated with the presence of radiation products like sulfuric acid and SO_2. On the leading, less irradiated, hemisphere, our observations rule out the presence of many of the proposed sulfate salts, but do show the presence of distorted water ice bands. Based on the association of the potential MgSO_4 detection on the trailing side with other radiation products, we conclude that MgSO_4 is also a radiation product, rather than a constituent of a Europa ocean brine. Based on ocean chemistry models, we hypothesize that, prior to irradiation, magnesium is primarily in the form of MgCl_2, and we predict that NaCl and KCl are even more abundant, and, in fact, dominate the non-ice component of the leading hemisphere. We propose observational tests of this new hypothesis.

Additional Information

© 2013 American Astronomical Society. Received 2012 December 18; accepted 2013 February 9; published 2013 March 14. K.P.H. acknowledges support from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and funded in part through the internal Research and Technology Development program, and from the NASA Astrobiology Institute, through the "Astrobiology of Icy Worlds" node at JPL. M.E.B. is supported by the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professorship at the California Institute of Technology.

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Published - 1538-3881_145_4_110.pdf

Submitted - 1303.0894v1.pdf


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August 22, 2023
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