NASA Research Reveals Europa's Mystery Dark Material Could Be Sea Salt
This according to NASA shows that laboratory experiments suggest the dark material coating some geological features of Jupiter's moon Europa is likely sea salt from a subsurface ocean, discolored by exposure to radiation. The presence of sea salt on Europa's surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor -- an important consideration in determining whether the icy moon could support life.
For this particular research, the scientists tested samples of common salt -- sodium chloride -- along with mixtures of salt and water, in their vacuum chamber at Europa's chilly surface temperature of minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 Celsius). They then bombarded the salty samples with an electron beam to simulate the intense radiation on the moon's surface.
After a few tens of hours of exposure to this harsh environment, which corresponds to as long as a century on Europa, the salt samples, which were initially white just like table salt, turned a yellowish-brown color similar to features on the icy moon. The researchers found the color of these samples, as measured in their spectra, showed a strong resemblance to the color within fractures on Europa that were imaged by NASA's Galileo mission.
"This work tells us the chemical signature of radiation-baked sodium chloride is a compelling match to spacecraft data for Europa's mystery material," said research lead Kevin Hand, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
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