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The ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa has table salt, just like Earth's seas

By Mike Wall
June 14, 2019, 2:13:53 PM EDT

jupiter moons june 14 2019

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft captured this color composite view of the Jupiter moon Europa in 1997. At left is a natural-color view; the enhanced-color version at right is designed to bring out color differences. The yellow patch at center-left in both views is the “chaos region” Tara Regio, where the Hubble Space Telescope recently spotted evidence of sodium chloride on the surface.


The huge ocean sloshing beneath the ice shell of the Jupiter moon Europa may be intriguingly similar to the seas of Earth, a new study suggests.

Scientists have generally thought that sulfate salts dominate Europa's subsurface ocean, which harbors about twice as much water as all of Earth's seas put together. But the Hubble Space Telescope has detected the likely presence of sodium chloride (NaCl) on Europa's frigid surface, the study reports.

The NaCl — the same stuff that makes up plain old table salt — is probably coming from the ocean, study team members said. And that's pretty exciting, given that the saltiness of Earth's oceans comes primarily from NaCl.

"We do need to revisit our understanding of Europa's surface composition, as well as its internal geochemistry," lead author Samantha Trumbo, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, told Space.com.

"If this sodium chloride is really reflective of the internal composition, then [Europa's ocean] might be more Earth-like than we used to think," she added.

NASA's Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 through 2003, spotted some odd, yellowish patches on Europa's surface. Subsequently, laboratory experiments performed in simulated Europa surface conditions suggested that irradiated NaCl may be responsible for these "color centers." (Europa lies within Jupiter's powerful radiation belts, and the moon's surface gets bombarded as a result.)

So, Trumbo and her colleagues went looking for signs of NaCl on Europa. They used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) instrument over four observing runs, from May 2017 through August 2017.

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