What comes to mind when you think of salt? The seasoning that adds flavor to your favorite dish, or the mineral that can be found in the ocean and our bodies? Well, forget what you know about salt, because scientists have made an exciting discovery that challenges everything we thought we knew about this ubiquitous compound.
According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have identified two new types of watery salt that have never been seen before. These unique salt structures, dubbed “hyper-hydrates,” contain 13 and 17 water molecules per salt molecule, respectively. This is a significant departure from the only other known hydrate, hydrohalite, which contains only two water molecules per salt molecule.
But where did scientists find these mysterious new salt structures? Believe it or not, they discovered them by simulating the extreme pressure conditions that exist on Jupiter’s moon Europa. The researchers put a drop of salty water between two tiny diamonds and pressed them together with a force 25,000 times that of Earth’s atmosphere. Through a microscope, they watched as the salty mixture reacted and were surprised to see the new crystal formations.
Why is this discovery so important? Europa is one of the most promising locations in our solar system for the existence of extraterrestrial life. It’s believed to have a salty ocean beneath a thick layer of ice, and the presence of these new salt structures indicates that there may be chemical processes occurring on the moon that are different from anything we’ve seen on Earth.
In fact, the hunt for life on Europa has been heating up in recent years. In April of this year, the JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) mission is set to launch, and NASA is planning to launch its Europa Clipper mission next year. These missions will study Europa’s surface and attempt to peer into its depths in search of life.
So, forget everything you thought you knew about salt, because this exciting discovery is rewriting the rules. Who knows what other surprises the universe has in store for us?