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Sulfuric Acid on Europa and the Radiolytic Sulfur Cycle

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Science  01 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5437, pp. 97-99
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5437.97

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Abstract

A comparison of laboratory spectra with Galileo data indicates that hydrated sulfuric acid is present and is a major component of Europa's surface. In addition, this moon's visually dark surface material, which spatially correlates with the sulfuric acid concentration, is identified as radiolytically altered sulfur polymers. Radiolysis of the surface by magnetospheric plasma bombardment continuously cycles sulfur between three forms: sulfuric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfur polymers, with sulfuric acid being about 50 times as abundant as the other forms. Enhanced sulfuric acid concentrations are found in Europa's geologically young terrains, suggesting that low-temperature, liquid sulfuric acid may influence geological processes.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: rcarlson{at}lively.jpl.nasa.gov

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