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Clay-like minerals found on Jupiter`s icy moon Europa

Last Updated: Thursday, December 12, 2013 - 17:36

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: Researchers studying the data received from NASA’s Galileo mission found clay-type minerals on the surface of Europa, Jupiter`s icy moon.

This is the first time such minerals have been detected on Europa`s surface and the types of space rocks that deliver such minerals typically also often carry organic materials.

"Organic materials, which are important building blocks for life, are often found in comets and primitive asteroids," said Jim Shirley, a research scientist at NASA`s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Finding the rocky residues of this comet crash on Europa`s surface may open up a new chapter in the story of the search for life on Europa."

Scientists have also long thought there must be organic materials at Europa, too, though they have yet to detect them directly. One theory is that organic material could have arrived by comet or asteroid impacts, and this new finding supports that idea.

Shirley and colleagues, funded by a NASA Outer Planets Research grant, were able to see the clay-type minerals called phyllosilicates in near-infrared images from Galileo taken in 1998.

Those images are low resolution by today`s standards, and Shirley`s group is applying a new technique for pulling a stronger signal for these materials out of the noisy picture.

The phyllosilicates appear in a broken ring about 25 miles (40 kilometers) wide, which is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) away from the center of a 20-mile-diameter (30 kilometers) central crater site.

“The leading explanation for this pattern is the splash back of material ejected when a comet or asteroid hits the surface at an angle of 45 degrees or more from the vertical direction. A shallow angle would allow some of the space rock`s original material to fall back to the surface. A more head-on collision would likely have vaporized it or driven that space rock`s materials below the surface” said NASA.

(With Agency inputs)

First Published: Thursday, December 12, 2013 - 17:26

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