Juno spacecraft measures oxygen production on Jupiter’s moon, Europa | Science & Technology

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has directly measured charged oxygen and hydrogen molecules from the atmosphere of one of Jupiter’s largest moons, Europa. According to a new study co-authored by SwRI scientists and led by Princeton University, these observations provide key constraints on the potential oxygenation of its subsurface ocean.

“These findings have direct implications on the potential habitability of Europa,” said Juno Principal Investigator Dr. Scott Bolton of SwRI, a co-author of the study. “This study provides the first direct in-situ measurement of water components existing in Europa’s atmosphere, giving us a narrow range that could support habitability.”

In 2022, Juno completed a flyby of Europa, coming as close as 352 kilometers to the moon. The SwRI-developed Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) instrument aboard Juno detected significant amounts of charged molecular oxygen and hydrogen lost from the atmosphere.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to definitively detect hydrogen and oxygen with in-situ measurements and further confirm that Europa’s atmosphere is made primarily of hydrogen and oxygen molecules,” said SwRI Staff Scientist and co-author Dr. Robert Ebert.

The source of these molecules is thought to be water ice on Europa’s surface. Jupiter’s rampant radiation breaks H2O’s molecular bonds, leaving behind oxygen and hydrogen. The heavier oxygen molecules remain more constrained to the surface, or near-surface atmosphere, while the lighter-weight hydrogen predominately escapes into the atmosphere and beyond. Oxygen produced in the ice is either lost from the atmosphere and/or sequestered in the surface. Oxygen retained in Europa’s ice may work its way to its subsurface ocean as a possible source of metabolic energy.

“Europa’s ice shell absorbs radiation, protecting the ocean underneath. This absorption also produces oxygen within the ice, so in a way, the ice shell acts as Europa’s lung, providing a potential oxygen source for the…

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