From Los Alamos: “Oxygen detected in atmosphere of Saturn’s Moon Dione”

James E. Rickman, Media

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and an international research team have announced discovery of molecular oxygen ions (O2+) in the upper-most atmosphere of Dione, one of the 62 known moons orbiting the ringed planet. The research appeared recently in Geophysical Research Letters and was made possible via instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997.

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A sensor aboard the Cassini spacecraft called the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) detected the oxygen ions in Dione’s wake during a flyby of the moon in 2010. Los Alamos researchers Robert Tokar and Michelle Thomsen noted the presence of the oxygen ions.

‘The concentration of oxygen in Dione’s atmosphere is roughly similar to what you would find in Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of about 300 miles,’ Tokar said. ‘It’s not enough to sustain life, but—together with similar observations of other moons around Saturn and Jupiter—these are definitive examples of a process by which a lot of oxygen can be produced in icy celestial bodies that are bombarded by charged particles or photons from the Sun or whatever light source happens to be nearby.’”

Perhaps even more exciting is the possibility that on a moon with subsurface water, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, molecular oxygen could combine with carbon in subsurface lakes to form the building blocks of life. Future missions to Europa could help unravel questions about that moon’s habitability.”

See the full article here.

Los Alamos National Laboratory
Operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s NNSA

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