NASA’s Juno Measured Oxygen Production on Jupiter’s Moon Europa

7th Mar 2024
NASA’s Juno Measured Oxygen Production on Jupiter’s Moon Europa

NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter has provided some intriguing insights into oxygen production on one of Jupiter’s ice moons, Europa. According to researchers, the oxygen available is enough to keep one million humans breathing every day but is considerably less than previously estimated.

The discovery was derived from careful measurements of hydrogen outgassing by using the Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) instrument on the mission. These estimates will potentially impact Jupiter’s exploration and future missions to the planet and its surrounding bodies in a significant manner.

Europa’s Oxygen Production

The Juno mission’s recent findings reveal oxygen production estimated to be approximately 12 kilograms per second. Previous estimates range from a few pounds to over 2,000 pounds per second (over 1,000 kilograms per second). This means that 1000 tons of oxygen are produced daily on Europa. This data can have many implications for the moon’s habitability prospects.

Europa is one of Jupiter’s 95 known moons and is covered by a layer of ice that has piqued the curiosity of researchers for many years. The presence of some factors on this body shows the potential to harbor life-supporting conditions beneath the solid surface. Europa is the fourth largest moon around Jupiter, with a diameter of 3100 kilometers, and the ocean is predicted to have salty water just like that present on Earth.

NASA’s Juno Mission Measures Oxygen Production at Europa
This illustration shows charged particles from Jupiter impacting Europa’s surface, splitting frozen water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen molecules. Scientists believe some of these newly created oxygen gases could migrate toward the moon’s subsurface ocean, as depicted in the inset image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/PU

Details of the Juno Mission

Juno is equipped with various state-of-the-art instruments, including nine charged-particle and electromagnetic-wave sensors. In September 2022, Juno soared within 354 kilometers of Europa’s surface, and the JADE instrument scrutinized the hydrogen and oxygen ions emanating from the moon’s surface, which has given us further information about the atmospheric dynamics on the moon. 

The close encounter it had two years ago not only shed light on Europa’s oxygen production but also played a crucial role in advancing our understanding of the Jovian system. While this new information has changed our view on life in Europa, it has also paved the way for the upcoming Europa Clipper mission in 2030, which will dive further into the mysteries surrounding this moon.

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