NASA’s Juno spacecraft measures oxygen production at Jupiter’s moon Europa

Scientists have calculated the rate of oxygen production at Jupiter’s moon Europa by analyzing data collected from the Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) instrument of the Juno spacecraft. 

They have found Europa produces around 12 kilograms of oxygen per second, i.e., 1,000 tons of oxygen every 24 hours. 

Europa is the fourth-largest moon of Jupiter and has an icy surface. Not only that, previously, scientists have found subsurface ocean below its icy crust.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft captures Jupiter’s icy moon Europa during the mission’s close flyby on Sept. 29, 2022
NASA’s Juno spacecraft captures Jupiter’s icy moon Europa during the mission’s close flyby on Sept. 29, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing: Kevin M. Gill CC BY 3.0)

How does Europa produce oxygen? 

An artist's illustration shows the oxygen production mechanism at Jupiter's moon Europa
An artist’s illustration shows the oxygen production mechanism at Jupiter’s moon Europa. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/PU)

Planet Jupiter has the most intense radiation environment in our solar system, other than the sun.

When the charge particles of this radiation reach the icy surface of Europa, they break the water molecules of the ice and produce oxygen and hydrogen.

Scientists believe that some of the oxygen could migrate toward the moon’s subsurface ocean, which could make Europa’s subsurface ocean habitable.

However, due to the regular bombardment of charged particles from Jupiter, Europa is continuously losing its icy surface.

About Juno mission

NASA’s Juno spacecraft was launched in 2011 and reached Jupiter in 2016. Since then, the spacecraft has been orbiting Jupiter and providing us with valuable data about Jupiter and its moons.

Currently, the spacecraft is on its extended mission, and it will continue its investigation of the solar system’s largest planet through September 2025, or until the spacecraft’s end of life.

The spacecraft’s Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) instrument has the capacity to directly measure the charged particles coming from Jupiter and bombarding its moons. 

We will know more about the oxygen production and habitability at Europa when NASA’s new spacecraft, the Europa Clipper, reaches Jupiter in 2030.

NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft will be launched at the end of 2024 (currently planned for October 10, 2024) and will reach Jupiter’s orbit in 2030.

A new scientific paper has been published in Nature Astronomy on the above findings on March 4, 2024. 

Related article: Juno captures stunning images of Jupiter’s moon Io during its second closest flyby 

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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