April 1, 2023


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The ice covering these moons is different from what is found on Earth. Its new forms change our understanding of chemistry

According to the results presented in Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesNew ice can only form in the presence of high pressure and low temperatures. At the same time, it remains stable at low pressure. When the pressure and temperature parameters were set to values ​​not found naturally on Earth, the atoms in the salt water arranged themselves into previously unrecognized structures.

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Its defining feature was that it contained more water molecules than salt. Such a conclusion could be crucial in trying to understand why Europa’s surface appears to be much more water-rich than expected. This moon is one of many natural satellites of Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system – and has attracted the attention of the scientific world for its potential in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Salt and water can combine to form a saltwater solution. Due to the presence of salt, the freezing point of the solution decreases, but at sufficiently low temperatures, the liquid can turn into ice. When this happens, the molecules arrange themselves into a structure called a hydrate. Under natural conditions, only such a structure would have a configuration in which one molecule of salt falls on two molecules of water.

The ice covering Europe and Ganymede may have an unprecedented structure

Experiments in the lab have shown how different the structures are in organisms like Europa and Ganymede. In their case, the hydrates there can be very different. In the first case, we are talking about the ratio of one molecule of salt to 13 molecules of water, and in the other – from 1 to 17.

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As it turned out, the second variant was very stable even in variable pressures and temperatures varying around -50°C. Scientists now want to create more layers of glacial salt to gather more information about it. Then it should be possible to compare the chemical signatures obtained with what has been detected on Jupiter’s moons.

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Due to the fact that hydrates containing 17 water molecules to 1 salt molecule were stable down to -50 ° C, there is a possibility that similar structures existed, for example, in Antarctica. Could objects millions of kilometers away be more similar to our planet than we think? It is difficult to answer this question. What is certain, however, is something else: studying Jupiter’s icy moons is becoming more and more interesting. Especially in the context of assumptions about the hypothetical life that would be hiding in the oceans there.