Oxygen production from dissociation of Europa’s water-ice surface

J. R. Szalay, F. Allegrini, R. W. Ebert, F. Bagenal, S. J. Bolton, S. Fatemi, D. J. McComas, A. Pontoni, J. Saur, H. T. Smith, D. F. Strobel, S. D. Vance, A. Vorburger, R. J. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Jupiter’s moon Europa has a predominantly water-ice surface that is modified by exposure to its space environment. Charged particles break molecular bonds in surface ice, thus dissociating the water to ultimately produce H2 and O2, which provides a potential oxygenation mechanism for Europa’s subsurface ocean. These species are understood to form Europa’s primary atmospheric constituents. Although remote observations provide important global constraints on Europa’s atmosphere, the molecular O2 abundance has been inferred from atomic O emissions. Europa’s atmospheric composition had never been directly sampled and model-derived oxygen production estimates ranged over several orders of magnitude. Here, we report direct observations of H2+ and O2+ pickup ions from the dissociation of Europa’s water-ice surface and confirm these species are primary atmospheric constituents. In contrast to expectations, we find the H2 neutral atmosphere is dominated by a non-thermal, escaping population. We find 12 ± 6 kg s−1 (2.2 ± 1.2 × 1026 s−1) O2 are produced within Europa’s surface, less than previously thought, with a narrower range to support habitability in Europa’s ocean. This process is found to be Europa’s dominant exogenic surface erosion mechanism over meteoroid bombardment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)567-576
Number of pages10
JournalNature Astronomy
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


Dive into the research topics of 'Oxygen production from dissociation of Europa’s water-ice surface'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this