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These LA Scientists Are Very Focused On Salt Right Now. Space Salt

Scientists at JPL and Caltech think they've found evidence of salt in the oceans of Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter. The presence of salt could suggest habitability. (Courtesy of JPL/NASA)
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There's a team of scientists over at JPL and Caltech who think they know what the surface of Europa tastes like.

"It would taste like salt. Like your table salt you're used to eating on your food," said Samantha Trumbo, Ph.D. candidate in planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, and lead author of a new paper about the potential presence of sodium chloride on the surface of the Galilean moon.

The presence of salt could theoretically point to habitability for life as well.

Europa has a thick icy crust blanketing vast oceans of water, and in some areas, these oceans have welled up and frozen when they hit the roughly -280 degree fahrenheit surface, causing fractures and overturning blocks of ice.

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Researchers looked at data from the Hubble Space Telescope from these areas, and saw patches of what they believed to be irradiated salt, an indication that the water seeping up through the crust was actually full of sodium chloride.

"This discovery really helps us better understand Europa's ocean chemistry," said Kevin Peter Hand, planetary scientist and astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and co-author on the paper.

The fact that the ocean could be filled with salt could mean that the moon is habitable for life.

Our ocean on Earth is salty, partially because of what Hand calls seafloor cycling. Water makes its way into oceanic crust, dissolves various minerals and is shot back out via hydrothermal vents, or superheated chasms in the ocean floor.

Lifeforms can survive in and around these vents, meaning theoretically, if there are hydrothermal vents on Europa's ocean floor, life could be there too.

The study was published in Science Advances.