JWST Reveals Hydrogen Peroxide on Ganymede and Ongoing Volcanic Eruptions on Io

Category Astronomy

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The JWST revealed Hydrogen Peroxide on the poles of Ganymede, probably due to its magnetic field, and sulfurous fumes on the most volcanically active moon of Jupiter, Io.

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Groundbreaking observations by the James Webb Space Telescope have revealed hydrogen peroxide on Ganymede and ongoing volcanic eruptions on Io, enhancing our understanding of Jupiter’s moons and the broader solar system.

With its sensitive infrared cameras and high-resolution spectrometer, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is revealing new secrets of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites, in particular Ganymede, the largest moon, and Io, the most volcanically active.

This is the first time Hydrogen Peroxide has been detected on Ganymede.

In two separate publications, astronomers who are part of JWST’s Early Release Science program report the first detection of hydrogen peroxide on Ganymede and sulfurous fumes on Io, both the result of Jupiter’s domineering influence.

"This shows that we can do incredible science with the James Webb Space Telescope on solar system objects, even if the object is really very bright, like Jupiter, but also when you look at very faint things next to Jupiter," said Imke de Pater, professor emerita of astronomy and earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley. De Pater and Thierry Fouchet from the Paris Observatory are co-principal investigators for the Early Release Science solar system observation team, one of 13 teams given early access to the telescope.

The JWST also revealed that much of Europa's surface is covered in Hydrogen Peroxide.

Samantha Trumbo, a 51 Pegasi b postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, led the study of Ganymede, which was published on July 21 in the journal Science Advances. Using measurements captured by the near infrared spectrometer (NIRSpec) on JWST, the team detected the absorption of light by hydrogen peroxide — H2O2 — around the north and south poles of the moon, a result of charged particles around Jupiter and Ganymede impacting the ice that blankets the moon.

THe JWST's infrared cameras have a much greater sensitivity than Hubble.

"JWST revealing the presence of hydrogen peroxide at Ganymede’s poles shows for the first time that charged particles funneled along Ganymede’s magnetic field are preferentially altering the surface chemistry of its polar caps," Trumbo said.

The astronomers argue that the peroxide is produced by charged particles hitting the frozen water ice around the poles and breaking the water molecules into fragments — a process called radiolysis — which then recombine to form H2O2. They suspected that radiolysis would occur primarily around the poles on Ganymede because, unlike all other moons in our solar system, it has a magnetic field that directs charged particles toward the poles.

Io is the 4th largest moon of Jupiter.

"Just like how Earth’s magnetic field directs charged particles from the sun to the highest latitudes, causing the aurora, Ganymede’s magnetic field does the same thing to charged particles from Jupiter’s magnetosphere," she added. "Not only do these particles result in aurorae at Ganymede, as well, but they also impact the icy surface." .

Trumbo and Michael Brown, professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech, where Trumbo recently received her Ph.D., had earlier studied hydrogen peroxide on Europa, another of Jupiter’s four Galilean satellites. On Europa, however, the peroxide was detectable over much of the surface, perhaps, in part, because it has no magnetic field to protect the surface from the fast-moving particles zipping around Jupiter.

Ganymede is the largest moon in our Solar System.

"This difference between Ganymede and Europa shows that a moon's magnetic field can have a strong influence on its surface composition," Trumbo said.

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