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Scientists Discover the Origin of Sulfur on Jupiter’s Moon

While this isn’t the first time this compound has been detected on Europa, the map shows the solid state of sulfur dioxide with better coverage and resolution than previous observations. The concentration of the material also correlates with large-scale dark areas in both visible and ultraviolet wavelengths.

The findings reveal that sulfur likely erupted from Io, the most active volcanic object in the solar system, and then ionized and became trapped in Jupiter’s magnetic field. The sulfur is then transported to Europa, where it reacts with water in the ice moon’s frozen crust to form sulfur dioxide.

However, it is also possible that the compound originated beneath Europa’s surface. “Europa’s relatively young surface consists mainly of water ice, although the material others have been detected across its surface,” Treacy Becker, planetary scientist at SwRI and lead author of the paper describing the UV observations, said in a statement.

The greater concentrations of sulfur dioxide found in Europa’s back hemisphere as it orbits Jupiter suggest that the sulfur came from Io.

“It’s likely concentrated there because Jupiter’s shared rotational magnetic field traps sulfur particles spewed from the volcano.” Io and slam it into the back of Europa.” said Philippa Molyneux, SwRI scientist and co-author of the paper.

SwRI intends to build on this study using the Europa Ultraviolet Spectrograph. The instrument will observe Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon as part of NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2024 and arrive at Jupiter’s system in 2030.

Scientists are almost certain that hidden beneath Europa’s icy surface is an ocean of salty water that contains almost twice as much water as all the oceans on Earth. The Jovian Moon is thus considered one of the most promising places to search for life beyond Earth.

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