November 24, 2020

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Jupiter’s moon Europa glows in the dark — and that may tell us what’s on it

4 min read

Laboratory experiments have re-created the surface of Europa, one of the four large moons of Jupiter, with a surprising result — Europa glows in the dark. While we typically see the side of Europa facing Earth, this new study shows what this world might look like from its other side.

This discovery is more than an interesting fact about the Solar System — it reveals secrets of the enigmatic moon.

Europa on the rocks

The icy surface of Europa is rich with salt, including magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) and sodium chloride (common table salt). Each type of mineral radiates specific wavelengths of light when releasing energy. These studies found that salts within the icy crust of the Jovian moon can glow in the dark.

Europa is one of the water worlds of our solar system, holding a vast ocean under its frozen surface.

“[E]uropa’s ice shell is 10 to 15 miles (15 to 25 kilometers) thick, floating on an ocean 40 to 100 miles (60 to 150 kilometers) deep. So while Europa is only one-fourth the diameter of Earth, its ocean may contain twice as much water as all of Earth’s oceans combined,” NASA describes.

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Gravitational forces between Europa, Jupiter, and its companions Io and Ganymede create cracks in the frozen surface. In some places, this ocean rises through these cracks in the ice. Therefore, by studying the outer surface of the ice, it is possible to learn about the hidden oceans of Europa.

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