Robert Owen (
Thu, 30 Sep 1999 15:36:52 -0400

Larry Klaes wrote:

> >Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 13:50:11 -0400 (EDT)
> >From:
> >Sender:
> >To: undisclosed-recipients:;
> >
> >Douglas Isbell
> >Headquarters, Washington, DC Sept. 30, 1999
> >(Phone: 202/358-1753)
> >
> >Jane Platt
> >Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
> >(Phone: 818/354-5011)
> >
> >RELEASE: 99-112
> >
> >
> > Sulfuric acid -- a corrosive chemical found on Earth in car
> >batteries -- exists on the frozen surface of Jupiter's icy moon
> >Europa.
> >
> > "This demonstrates once again that Europa is a really bizarre
> >place," said Dr. Robert Carlson of NASA's Jet Propulsion
> >Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. "Sulfuric acid occurs in
> >nature, but it isn't plentiful. You're not likely to find
> >sulfuric acid on Earth's beaches, but on Europa, it covers large
> >portions of the surface."
> >
> > The new findings from NASA's Galileo spacecraft are reported
> >in the Oct. 1 issue of the journal Science. Carlson, the principal
> >investigator for the near-infrared mapping spectrometer aboard
> >Galileo, is the lead author of the paper.
> >
> > Although there is no evidence of life on Europa, pictures and
> >other scientific information gathered by the Galileo spacecraft
> >indicate a liquid ocean may lie beneath Europa's icy crust. Water
> >is one key ingredient essential for life.
> >
> > At first, Carlson thought the spectrometer's findings of
> >sulfuric acid on Europa would quash any talk that life might exist
> >there. "After all, even though we know there are acid-loving
> >bacteria on Earth, sulfuric acid is a nasty chemical," he said.
> >Those thoughts were quickly negated by a colleague, Dr. Kenneth
> >Nealson, head of JPL's astrobiology unit, who was excited by the
> >findings.
> >
> > "Although sulfur may seem like a harsh chemical, its presence
> >on Europa doesn't in any way rule out the possibility of life,"
> >Nealson said. "In fact, to make energy, which is essential to
> >life, you need fuel and something with which to burn it. Sulfur
> >and sulfuric acid are known oxidants, or energy sources, for
> >living things on Earth. These new findings encourage us to hunt
> >for any possible links between the sulfur oxidants on Europa's
> >surface, and natural fuels produced from Europa's hot interior."
> >
> > "These findings have helped solve a puzzle that has been
> >nagging at me for a long time," Carlson said. "Data gathered by
> >the spectrometer during observations of Europa had shown a
> >chemical that we couldn't identify. I kept wondering, 'What the
> >heck is this stuff?' Lab measurements now tell us that it is
> >sulfuric acid, and we can start investigating where it comes from
> >and what other materials might be there." For example, some
> >reddish-brown areas on Europa might be caused by sulfur that co-
> >exists with the sulfuric acid.
> >
> > One theory proposed by Carlson is that the sulfur atoms
> >originate with the volcanoes on Jupiter's fiery moon Io, with the
> >material being ejected into the magnetic environment around
> >Jupiter and eventually whirled toward Europa. Another idea is
> >that the sulfuric acid comes from Europa's interior, beneath the
> >moon's icy crust, ejected by sulfuric acid geysers or oozing up
> >through cracks in the ice.
> >
> > Another theory comes from Carlson's co-author, Professor
> >Robert Johnson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville,
> >who noted that sodium and magnesium sulfates may have leached onto
> >Europa's surface from underground oceans and then were altered by
> >the intense radiation field. This would produce the frozen
> >sulfuric acid and other sulfur compounds. The new finding is also
> >consistent with earlier Galileo spectrometer data analyses
> >reported by Thomas McCord of the University of Hawaii and other
> >members of the instrument team, who suggested that sulfate salts
> >of this type were present on Europa.
> >
> > Carlson, Johnson and co-author Mark Anderson, a chemist in
> >JPL's Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, plan to study Jupiter's
> >largest moon, Ganymede, to see if it also contains sulfuric acid.
> >
> > The near-infrared mapping spectrometer works like a prism to
> >break up infrared light not visible to the naked eye. Scientists
> >can study the resulting light patterns to determine what chemicals
> >are present, since different chemicals absorb infrared light
> >differently.
> >
> > Galileo has been orbiting Jupiter and its moons for nearly
> >four years. More information on the Galileo mission is available
> >on the World Wide Web at:
> >
> >
> >
> > An image depicting sulfuric acid on Europa is available on
> >the World Wide Web at:
> >
> >
> >
> > JPL manages the Galileo mission for NASA's Office of Space
> >Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California
> >Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.
> >
> > - end -
> >
> > * * *

Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA

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