Europa is a prime target for astrobiology and has been prioritized as the next target for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration flagship mission. It is important, therefore, that we advance our understanding of Europa, its ocean and physical environment as much as possible. Here, we describe observations of Europa obtained during its orbital eclipse by Jupiter using the Hubble Space Telescope. We obtained Advanced Camera for Surveys Solar Blind Channel far ultraviolet low-resolution spectra that show oxygen line emission both in and out of eclipse. We also used the Wide-Field and Planetary Camera-2 and searched for broad-band optical emission from fluorescence of the surface material, arising from the very high level of incident energetic particle radiation on ices and potentially organic substances. The high-energy particle radiation at the surface of Europa is extremely intense and is responsible for the production of a tenuous oxygen atmosphere and associated FUV line emission. Approximately 50% of the oxygen emission lasts at least a few hours into the eclipse. We discuss the detection limits of the optical emission, which allow us to estimate the fraction of incident energy reradiated at optical wavelengths, through electron-excited emission, Cherenkov radiation in the ice and fluorescent processes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)