Sodium chloride on the surface of Europa

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Science Advances  12 Jun 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 6, eaaw7123
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw7123


The potential habitability of Europa’s subsurface ocean depends on its chemical composition, which may be reflected in that of Europa’s geologically young surface. Investigations using Galileo Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer data led to the prevailing view that Europa’s endogenous units are rich in sulfate salts. However, recent ground-based infrared observations have suggested that, while regions experiencing sulfur radiolysis may contain sulfate salts, Europa’s more pristine endogenous material may reflect a chloride-dominated composition. Chlorides have no identifying spectral features at infrared wavelengths, but develop distinct visible-wavelength absorptions under irradiation, like that experienced on the surface of Europa. Using spectra obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope, we present the detection of a 450-nm absorption indicative of irradiated sodium chloride on the surface. The feature correlates with geologically disrupted chaos terrain, suggesting an interior source. The presence of endogenous sodium chloride on the surface of Europa has important implications for our understanding of its subsurface chemistry.

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