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Dark material on Europa could be sea salt

Posted on Wednesday, 13 May, 2015 | Comment icon 6 comments

The surface of Europa appears to be covered in salt. Image Credit: NASA/JPL
The dark substance that litters the surface of Europa is now believed to be sodium chloride.
Hot on the heels of the news that Saturn's moon Enceladus could contain a saltwater subsurface ocean comes the revelation that Jupiter's moon Europa might also be home to the same thing.

The key to the discovery lies in the mysterious dark substance that can be seen covering much of Europa's surface. Scientists had long struggled to identify what this substance could be, but now by simulating the extreme conditions on Europa using a special testing device they have been able to determine that it is actually sea salt.

The device, which was nicknamed "Europa in a can", was used to subject a salt sample to the same pressures, temperatures and radiation levels found on Europa's surface.

It didn't take long for it to turn the same dark color as the substance observed in the photographs.

"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 planetary scientist Kevin Hand.

The discovery of sea salt on Europa, much like the recent discovery on Enceladus, suggests that Jupiter's icy moon is still one of the best places in the solar system to look for alien life.

Source: | Comments (6)

Tags: Europa, Jupiter

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by She-ra on 13 May, 2015, 21:11
So this would be a good place to look for life! Very nice.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 13 May, 2015, 21:31
So this would be a good place to look for life! Very nice. Yep, that's been the general thought for the last couple of decades.
Comment icon #3 Posted by She-ra on 13 May, 2015, 21:35
Yep, that's been the general thought for the last couple of decades. Oh Waspie I mean this is even MORE of a reason we might FIND life. Be nice to me I'm ignorant about space and all that. I'll be the first to admit it too. I will leave my silly comments to myself.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Infernal Gnu on 13 May, 2015, 23:53
Damn, this ruins my theory that it was ground black pepper.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Zalmoxis on 16 May, 2015, 23:10
Nice find.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 21 May, 2015, 15:57
Europa in A CanNASA 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.Credit: JPL/NASASource: NASASolarSystem - YouTube Channel

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