Scientists recreate crust of Jupiter's moon Europa
Researchers have said that water, salts and gases dissolved in the huge ocean that could exist below Europa's icy crust can rise to the surface generating the enigmatic geological formations associated to red-tinged materials that can be seen on this Jupiter's satellite.
The findings were confirmed by the experiment carried out in the laboratory with water, carbon dioxide and magnesium sulfate by researchers at Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB, Spain).
Scientists suspect that inside Europa, one of the icy moons of Jupiter, reservoirs of liquid water exists, the essential element for life on Earth.
This theory emerged from information obtained on the Voyager and Galileo missions, which also registered fractures and 'chaotic' terrains associated to reddish materials, which contrast with the glacial white of the dominant water ice of the surface.
Some of these geological structures seem to be related to the rise of fluids coming from inside, as the space missions observations suggest. Data also suggest that red materials are hydrated salts, mainly of magnesium sulfate (MgSO4). Volatile compounds like carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) have been also detected.
To confirm their hypothesis, the scientists simulated in the laboratory the extreme conditions of the fluid reservoirs in the crust; particularly the high pressure (reproducing up to 300 bars) and the low temperature (around -4 degree Celsius C). They have observed what happens to an aqueous solution with CO2 and MgSO4 from these conditions when it emerges and cools to the surface.
The result is a variety of processes similar to Earth's volcanism, but at temperatures below zero. Three types of minerals are formed depending of the fluid's evolution: water ice, clathrates of carbon dioxide and very hydrated magnesium sulfates (epsomite, meridianiite).
The study has been published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.
(Posted on 15-03-2014)