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Planetary Scientists Create Two New Forms of Extraterrestrial Ice | Sci.News

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University of Washington researcher Baptiste Journaux and colleagues believe the newly-created substances could form at the surface and bottom of deep oceans on Jupiter’s icy moons Europa and Ganymede.
This image of Europa, the smallest of Jupiter’s four large moons, shows red streaks across the surface; the discovery of new types of salty ice could explain the material in these streaks and provide clues on the composition of Europa’s ice-covered ocean. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute.

This image of Europa, the smallest of Jupiter’s four large moons, shows red streaks across the surface; the discovery of new types of salty ice could explain the material in these streaks and provide clues on the composition of Europa’s ice-covered ocean. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute.

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“It’s rare nowadays to have fundamental discoveries in science,” Dr. Journaux said.

“Salt and water are very well known at Earth conditions. But beyond that, we’re totally in the dark.”

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“And now we have these planetary objects that probably have compounds that are very familiar to us, but in at very exotic conditions.”

“We have to redo all the fundamental mineralogical science that people did in the 1800s, but at high pressure and low temperature. It is an exciting time.”

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At cold temperatures water and salts combine to form a rigid salted icy lattice, known as a hydrate, held in place by hydrogen bonds.

The only previously known hydrate for sodium chloride was a simple structure with one salt molecule for every two water molecules.

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But the two new hydrates, found at moderate pressures and low temperatures, are strikingly different.

One has two sodium chlorides for every 17 water molecules; the other has one sodium chloride for every 13 water molecules

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This would explain why the signatures from the surface of Jupiter’s moons are more ‘watery’ than expected.

“It has the structure that planetary scientists have been waiting for,” Dr. Journaux said.

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“The discovery of new types of salty ice has importance not just for planetary science, but for physical chemistry and even energy research, which uses hydrates for energy storage.”

Journaux et al. discovered two new crystals made from water and table salt at low temperatures, below about minus 50 degrees Celsius; the known structure (left) has one salt molecule (yellow and green balls) to two water molecules (red and pink balls); the central structure has two sodium chloride molecules for every 17 water molecules and stays stable even if pressure drops to near vacuum, as would exist on a lunar surface; the structure on the right has one sodium chloride molecule for every 13 water molecules, and is stable only at high pressure. Image credit: Baptiste Journaux / University of Washington.

Journaux et al. discovered two new crystals made from water and table salt at low temperatures, below about minus 50 degrees Celsius; the known structure (left) has one salt molecule (yellow and green balls) to two water molecules (red and pink balls); the central structure has two sodium chloride molecules for every 17 water molecules and stays stable even if pressure drops to near vacuum, as would exist on a lunar surface; the structure on the right has one sodium chloride molecule for every 13 water molecules, and is stable only at high pressure. Image credit: Baptiste Journaux / University of Washington.

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The team’s experiment involved compressing a tiny bit of salty water between two diamonds about the size of a grain of sand, squeezing the liquid up to 25,000 times the standard atmospheric pressure.

The transparent diamonds allowed the team to watch the process through a microscope.

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“We were trying to measure how adding salt would change the amount of ice we could get, since salt acts as an antifreeze,” Dr. Journaux explained.

“Surprisingly, when we put the pressure on, what we saw is that these crystals that we were not expecting started growing. It was a very serendipitous discovery.”

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Such cold, high-pressure conditions created in the lab would be common on Jupiter’s moons, where scientists think 5 to 10 km of ice would cover oceans up to several hundred km thick, with even denser forms of ice possible at the bottom.

“Pressure just gets the molecules closer together, so their interaction changes — that is the main engine for diversity in the crystal structures we found,” Dr. Journaux said.

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Once the newly discovered hydrates had formed, one of the two structures remained stable even after the pressure was released.

“We determined that it remains stable at standard pressure up to about minus 50 degrees Celsius,” Dr. Journaux said.

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“So if you have a very briny lake, for example in Antarctica, that could be exposed to these temperatures, this newly discovered hydrate could be present there.”

The findings will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Baptiste Journaux et al. 2023. On the identification of hyperhydrated sodium chloride hydrates, stable at icy moon conditions. PNAS, in press; doi: 10.1073/pnas.2217125120

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Saturn’s Rings are Heating Gas Giant’s Upper Atmosphere, Astronomers Say | Sci.News

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The most feasible explanation is that icy ring particles raining down onto Saturn’s atmosphere cause this heating, according to a team of astronomers who analyzed several datasets obtained by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, and the NASA / ESA / SERC International Ultraviolet Explorer mission. This could be due to the impact of micrometeorites, solar wind particle bombardment, solar ultraviolet radiation, or electromagnetic forces picking up electrically charged dust.
This composite image shows the Saturn Lyman-alpha bulge, an emission from hydrogen which is a persistent and unexpected excess detected by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, NASA’s Cassini probe, and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope between 1980 and 2017. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Lotfi Ben-Jaffel, IAP & LPL.

This composite image shows the Saturn Lyman-alpha bulge, an emission from hydrogen which is a persistent and unexpected excess detected by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, NASA’s Cassini probe, and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope between 1980 and 2017. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Lotfi Ben-Jaffel, IAP & LPL.

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“Though the slow disintegration of the rings is well known, its influence on the atomic hydrogen of the planet is a surprise,” said Dr. Lotfi Ben-Jaffel, a researcher at the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris and the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona.

“From the Cassini probe, we already knew about the rings’ influence. However, we knew nothing about the atomic hydrogen content.”

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“Everything is driven by ring particles cascading into the atmosphere at specific latitudes. They modify the upper atmosphere, changing the composition.”

“And then you also have collisional processes with atmospheric gasses that are probably heating the atmosphere at a specific altitude.”

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The team’s conclusion required pulling together archival ultraviolet-light (UV) observations from four space missions that studied Saturn.

This includes observations from NASA’s Voyager probes that flew by Saturn in the 1980s and measured the UV excess.

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At the time, astronomers dismissed the measurements as noise in the detectors.

NASA’s Cassini mission, which arrived at Saturn in 2004, also collected UV data on the atmosphere (over several years).

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Additional data came from Hubble and the International Ultraviolet Explorer, which launched in 1978.

But the lingering question was whether all the data could be illusory, or instead reflected a true phenomenon on Saturn.

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The key to assembling the jigsaw puzzle came in the team’s decision to use measurements from Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS).

Its precision observations of Saturn were used to calibrate the archival UV data from all four other space missions that have observed Saturn.

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The astronomers compared the STIS UV observations of Saturn to the distribution of light from multiple space missions and instruments.

“When everything was calibrated, we saw clearly that the spectra are consistent across all the missions,” Dr. Ben-Jaffel said.

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“This was possible because we have the same reference point, from Hubble, on the rate of transfer of energy from the atmosphere as measured over decades.”

“It was really a surprise for me. I just plotted the different light distribution data together, and then I realized, wow — it’s the same.”

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Four decades of UV data cover multiple solar cycles and help astronomers study the Sun’s seasonal effects on Saturn.

By bringing all the diverse data together and calibrating it, Dr. Ben-Jaffel and colleagues found that there is no difference to the level of UV radiation.

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“At any time, at any position on the planet, we can follow the UV level of radiation. This points to the steady ‘ice rain’ from Saturn’s rings as the best explanation,” Dr. Ben-Jaffel said.

“We are just at the beginning of this ring characterization effect on the upper atmosphere of a planet.”

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“We eventually want to have a global approach that would yield a real signature about the atmospheres on distant worlds.”

“One of the goals of this study is to see how we can apply it to planets orbiting other stars. Call it the search for exo-rings.”

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A paper on the findings was published in the Planetary Science Journal.

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Lotfi Ben-Jaffel et al. 2023. The Enigmatic Abundance of Atomic Hydrogen in Saturn’s Upper Atmosphere. Planet. Sci. J 4, 54; doi: 10.3847/PSJ/acaf78



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Venus is Home to At Least 85,000 Volcanoes, Planetary Researchers Say | Sci.News

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There are many thousands of volcanoes on the surface of Venus. These volcanoes provide clues into the interior properties of the planet, properties that are otherwise largely inaccessible to scientists at present. In new research, planetrary researchers used the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery from NASA’s Magellan mission to catalog volcanoes across Venus at a global scale. The resulting database contains approximately 85,000 volcanoes, 99% of which are less than 5 km (3 miles) in diameter.
This map shows shield volcanoes on Venus. Image credit: Rebecca Hahn, Washington University in St. Louis.

This map shows shield volcanoes on Venus. Image credit: Rebecca Hahn, Washington University in St. Louis.

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“Our paper provides the most comprehensive map of all volcanic edifices on Venus ever compiled,” said Dr. Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis.

“It provides researchers with an enormously valuable database for understanding volcanism on that planet — a key planetary process, but for Venus is something about which we know very little, even though it’s a world about the same size as our own.”

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In their research, Dr. Byrne and his colleague, Washington University in St. Louis graduate student Rebecca Hahn, used radar imagery from NASA’s Magellan mission to catalog volcanoes across Venus at a global scale.

Their database contains 85,000 volcanoes, about 99% of which are less than 5 km in diameter.

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“Since NASA’s Magellan mission in the 1990s, we’ve had numerous major questions about Venus’ geology, including its volcanic characteristics,” Dr. Byrne said.

“But with the recent discovery of active volcanism on Venus, understanding just where volcanoes are concentrated on the planet, how many there are, how big they are, etc., becomes all the more important — especially since we’ll have new data for Venus in the coming years.”

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The team’s study includes detailed analyses of where volcanoes are, where and how they’re clustered, and how their spatial distributions compare with geophysical properties of the planet such as crustal thickness.

Taken together, the work provides the most comprehensive understanding of Venus’ volcanic properties — and perhaps of any world’s volcanism so far.

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That’s because, although we know a great deal about the volcanoes on Earth that are on land, there are still likely a great many yet to be discovered under the oceans.

Lacking oceans of its own, Venus’ entire surface can be viewed with Magellan radar imagery.

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Although there are volcanoes across almost the entire surface of Venus, the scientists found relatively fewer volcanoes in the 20-100 km (12-62 miles) diameter range, which may be a function of magma availability and eruption rate.

They also wanted to take a closer look at smaller volcanoes on Venus, those less than 5 km across that have been overlooked by previous volcano hunters.

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“They’re the most common volcanic feature on the planet: they represent about 99% of our dataset,” Hahn said.

“We looked at their distribution using different spatial statistics to figure out whether the volcanoes are clustered around other structures on Venus, or if they’re grouped in certain areas.”

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The team’s paper was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

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Rebecca M. Hahn & Paul K. Byrne. A Morphological and Spatial Analysis of Volcanoes on Venus. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, published online March 24, 2023; doi: 10.1029/2023JE007753



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Impact Glass Beads from the Moon Contain Solar Wind-Derived Water, Study Shows | Sci.News

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Scientists from China and the United States have analyzed the impact glass beads from a lunar soil sample returned by China’s Chang’e-5 mission.
Asteroid and comet impacts are the major exogenous processes that reshape the surface morphologies of airless bodies, as evidenced by the widespread presence of impact craters on the Moon, Mercury and asteroids. These impacts probably create impact glasses and glass beads on any airless bodies. He et al. demonstrate that impact glass beads have the capacity to store significant quantities of solar wind-derived water at the surface of airless bodies, in addition to the possible presence of water ice trapped in permanently shadowed areas in polar regions. The presence of water, stored in impact glass beads, is consistent with the remote detection of water at lower-latitude regions of the Moon, Vesta and Mercury. The findings indicate that the impact glasses on the surface of solar system airless bodies are capable of storing solar wind-derived water and releasing it to space. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Asteroid and comet impacts are the major exogenous processes that reshape the surface morphologies of airless bodies, as evidenced by the widespread presence of impact craters on the Moon, Mercury and asteroids. These impacts probably create impact glasses and glass beads on any airless bodies. He et al. demonstrate that impact glass beads have the capacity to store significant quantities of solar wind-derived water at the surface of airless bodies, in addition to the possible presence of water ice trapped in permanently shadowed areas in polar regions. The presence of water, stored in impact glass beads, is consistent with the remote detection of water at lower-latitude regions of the Moon, Vesta and Mercury. The findings indicate that the impact glasses on the surface of solar system airless bodies are capable of storing solar wind-derived water and releasing it to space. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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It has long been argued that there could be water and other volatile species at the surface of the Moon.

Renewed lunar exploration and advances in remote-sensing measurements in the 1990s allowed the neutron spectrometer on board NASA’s Lunar Prospector mission to confirm the existence of water ice at the lunar poles.

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Following this, the Moon mineralogy mapper instrument on board India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft detected the absorption bands of hydroxyl and/or water on the lunar surface.

Furthermore, NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite impact experiment carried out in 2009 provided direct evidence for high water-ice abundances in permanently shadowed regions within Cabeus crater.

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Elevated water-ice abundance in lunar polar regions was further supported by the neutron flux measurements performed by the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector on board NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.

Recently, the neutral mass spectrometer on NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer detected exospheric water liberated by meteoroid impacts, and ground-based telescope observations detected molecular water on the lunar surface.

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Today, there is little doubt that most of the Moon’s surface harbors water in one form or another.

However, the origins of this water and its distribution and evolution during regolith gardening remain largely unknown, despite key implications for future lunar surface exploration and for better understanding the surface water reservoir and processing on solar system airless bodies.

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Representative electron images (colorized) of the impact glass beads returned by the Chang’e-5 mission. Image credit: He et al., doi: 10.1038/s41561-023-01159-6.

Representative electron images (colorized) of the impact glass beads returned by the Chang’e-5 mission. Image credit: He et al., doi: 10.1038/s41561-023-01159-6.

“We proposed that impact glass beads, a ubiquitous component in lunar soils with an amorphous nature, are a potential candidate for investigation of the unidentified hydrated layer or reservoir in lunar soils,” said first author Huicun He, a doctoral student at the Key Laboratory of Earth and Planetary Physics and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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In their research, He and her colleagues analyzed the water content within glass beads produced by impact events, extracted from Chang’e-5 lunar soil samples.

They identified water stored within these impact glass that is consistent with a solar wind origin.

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Furthermore, the distribution of water within individual beads indicates that water can rapidly accumulate in glass beads by diffusion, over timescales of only a few years, and be rapidly released.

“These impact glass beads have homogeneous chemical compositions and smooth exposed surfaces,” they said.

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“They are characterized by water abundance up to about 2,000 μg/g, with extreme deuterium-depleted characteristics.”

“The negative correlation between water abundance and hydrogen isotope composition reflects the fact that water in the impact glass beads comes from solar wind.”

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“The impact glass beads acted as a sponge for buffering the lunar surface water cycle,” they added.

“We estimate that the amount of water hosted by impact glass beads in lunar soils may reach up to 2.7*1014 kg.”

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“Our direct measurements of this surface reservoir of lunar water show that impact glass beads can store substantial quantities of solar wind-derived water on the Moon and suggest that impact glass may be water reservoirs on other airless bodies.”

The findings appear in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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H. He et al. A solar wind-derived water reservoir on the Moon hosted by impact glass beads. Nat. Geosci, published online March 27, 2023; doi: 10.1038/s41561-023-01159-6

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