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Letters to Nature
Nature 373, 677 - 679 (23 February 1995); doi:10.1038/373677a0

Detection of an oxygen atmosphere on Jupiter's moon Europa

D. T. Hall*, D. F. Strobel*, P. D. Feldman*, M. A. McGrath & H. A. Weaver

*Center for Astrophysical Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University, 34th and Charles Streets, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA
Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA

EUROPA, the second large satellite out from Jupiter, is roughly the size of Earth's Moon, but unlike the Moon, it has water ice on its surface1. There have been suggestions that an oxygen atmosphere should accumulate around such a body, through reactions which break up the water molecules and form molecular hydrogen and oxygen2,3. The lighter H2 molecules would escape from Europa relatively easily, leaving behind an atmosphere rich in oxygen. Here we report the detection of atomic oxygen emission from Europa, which we interpret as being produced by the simultaneous dissociation and excitation of atmospheric O2 by electrons from Jupiter's magnetosphere. Europa's molecular oxygen atmosphere is very tenuous, with a surface pressure about 10−11 that of the Earth's atmosphere at sea level.

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