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Sea salt may stripe Europa’s surface

Brown deposits could come from water-rock interaction on the seafloor, a promising sign for a habitable environment

12:00pm, May 19, 2015

PINCH OF SALT  Colored bands and patches on the surface of Europa might come from irradiated sea salt deposited by a subsurface ocean.

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Salt from a subsurface sea on Jupiter’s moon Europa might scribble the rust-colored bands that crisscross the satellite’s icy surface.

The salt is probably deposited on the surface by liquid water that intermingles with a rocky seabed, researchers report May 15 in Geophysical Research Letters.  Deposits of NaCl — ordinary table salt — are normally white. But planetary scientists Kevin Hand and Robert Carlson, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., speculated that harsh radiation around Jupiter might add a dash of color. The planet’s magnetic field traps passing electrons, some of which smack into Jupiter’s moons.

To simulate Europa, the researchers blasted high-energy electrons at cold, vacuum-sealed salt samples — “Europa in a can,” Hand says. The electron shower

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