Erosion of Galilean Satellite Surfaces by Jovian Magnetosphere Particles

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  29 May 1981:
Vol. 212, Issue 4498, pp. 1027-1030
DOI: 10.1126/science.212.4498.1027


The Galilean satellites of JupiterIo (J1), Europa (J2), Ganymede (J3), and Callisto (J4)are embedded in the intense ion and electron fluxes of the Jovian magnetosphere. The effect of these particles on the icy surfaces of the outer three satellites depends on the fluxes and the efficiency of the sputtering of water ice by such particles. Recent laboratory measurements provided data on the erosion of water ice by energetic particles and showed that it occurs much faster than would be expected from normal sputtering theory. The Voyager spacecraft encounters with Jupiter provided the first measurements of ion fluxes (energies30 kiloelectron volts) in the vicinity of the Galilean satellites. Using the laboratory sputtering data together with particle measurements from the Voyager 1 low-energy charged particle experiment, the effects of erosion on the surfaces of J2 to J4 are estimated. It is shown that the surface of Europa could be eroded by as much as 100 meters over an eon (109 years). Column densities of water vapor that could be produced around the three satellites from particle bombardment of their surfaces are also calculated, and the sources and losses of oxygen in the gravitationally bound gas produced by sputtering or sublimation are estimated.