Ice can be found in many places in the Solar system. Our Earth is not the sole custodian of this frozen form of water. Mars and the Moon are some of the most renowned repositories of Ice. However, the moons of Jupiter also hold ice in a large quantity. The biggest out of these are the planet-sized Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa. A new study has brought the attention of researchers from around the globe to the Icy moon of Europa. What the study has predicted is astonishing.
Researchers have hoped for a long time that under the harsh and unforgiving surface of Europa, there could be a hidden ocean. This hypothetical reservoir of water could be a hotspot for life, and also present the first opportunity for us to make contact with life that did not originate on our planet. The new study has predicted that there might be other reasons for Europa’s uniqueness as well. A team led by physicist Murthy Gudipati from Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory suggests that radiation from Jupiter’s magnetic field could make the icy surface of Europa glow in the dark.
The exact process that produces such a glow cannot be explained right now. The charged particles that Europa’s surface is bombarded with are directed due to Jupiter’s magnetic field. When these charged particles (such as electrons) interact with ice and salt-rich surface, the ensuing event is a complex chemical reaction. This explanation is still incomplete. The researchers do not know what the chemical composition of Europa’s surface is; therefore, it is really hard to say what reaction takes place. This hypothetical glow has not been recorded by any telescope that has studied the moon as well.
The researchers hope that we will get a clearer picture of phenomena when, in the next decade, NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft visits Europa. The phenomenon is termed Electron-stimulated luminescence, and studying the same would be one of the mission’s objectives. The researchers tried to recreate the same conditions as Europa and bombarded the ice with electrons. The final results indicate that the intensity of the glow depends heavily on the non-ice chemicals present in the ice. The researchers have identified a couple of chemicals that either enhance or suppress the glow.
This new hypothesis is interesting because of multiple reasons. The most obvious is the fact that we could study the glow of moons like Europa to find out the chemical composition of their icy surfaces. A future mission could take some cues from these experiments and design equipment to study other Jovian moons as well. What this study leads to, only time will tell.