Mid-ultraviolet Hubble Observations of Europa and the Global Surface Distribution of SO2

Becker, Tracy M.; Trumbo, Samantha K.; Molyneux, Philippa M.; Retherford, Kurt D.; Hendrix, Amanda R.; Roth, Lorenz; Raut, Ujjwal; Alday, Juan and McGrath, Melissa A. (2022). Mid-ultraviolet Hubble Observations of Europa and the Global Surface Distribution of SO2. The Planetary Science Journal, 3(6), article no. 129.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3847/psj/ac69eb


We present spatially resolved reflectance spectra of Europa’s surface in the wavelength range of 210–315 nm obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph in 2018 and 2019. These data provide the first high-quality, near-global spectral observations of Europa from 210 to 240 nm. They show that the reflectance of Europa’s leading, trailing, anti-Jovian, and sub-Jovian hemispheres is ∼5% near 210 nm, with varying spectral slopes across the mid-UV. This low albedo, even on the more “pristine” leading hemisphere, indicates a lack of the signature far-UV spectral edge characteristic of water ice. We detected and mapped a strong absorption feature at 280 nm that is consistent with an S–O bond that has previously been attributed to SO2 on the surface, hypothesized to be formed through radiolytic processing of Iogenic sulfur ions that have been preferentially emplaced on Europa’s trailing hemisphere by Jupiter’s magnetic field. Our models show that small inclusions of SO2 (0.1%) within the water ice are sufficient to produce the 280 nm feature without producing a feature at 4.07 μm, which has not been observed in ground-based spectral observations of Europa. This data set is the first to produce a spatially resolved, near-global map of the assumed SO2 feature, which is primarily concentrated near the apex of the trailing hemisphere and correlated with large-scale darker regions in both the visible and the ultraviolet. This distribution is consistent with “cold” exogenic sulfur ion bombardment on Europa.

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