It’s been some years since Europa scientists agreed that the Jovian moon has a large global ocean beneath miles of ice. More recently, scientists have identified what they view as pockets of water surrounded by ice but much nearer the surface than the ocean below. And there has been research as well into what may be salty, slushy pocket of water further down in the ice covering.
With NASA’s mission to Europa scheduled to launch in about two years, modeling of these all potential collections of liquid water has picked up to prepare for the Europa Clipper arrival to come.
The latest research into what the subsurface lakes on Europa may look like and how they may behave comes in a recently published paper in Planetary Science Journal.
A key finding supports the idea that water could potentially erupt above the surface of Europa either as plumes of vapor or as cryovolcanic activity — flowing, slushy ice rather than molten lava.
Computer modeling in the paper goes further, showing that if there are eruptions on Europa, they likely come from shallow, wide lakes embedded in the ice and not from the global ocean far below.
“We demonstrated that plumes or cryolava flows could mean there are shallow liquid reservoirs below, which Europa Clipper would be able to detect,” said Elodie Lesage, Europa scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of the research.
“Our results give new insights into how deep the water might be that’s driving surface activity, including plumes. And the water should be shallow enough that it can be detected by multiple Europa Clipper instruments.”
The question of whether or not Europa has plumes is not settled. While the plumes coming from Saturn’s moon Enceladus have been well studied and even had a spacecraft fly through one, Europa has only some fuzzy Hubble Space Telescope, Galileo mission and ground-based telescope images that suggest a plume.… Read more