Jupiter’s moon Europa is a prime candidate for life in our solar system, and scientists have been fascinated by its deep, salty oceans for decades.
However, it is surrounded by ice crusts that are miles to tens of miles thick, making sampling difficult. A growing body of evidence suggests that ice shells are more like mechanical systems than barriers, and are themselves potentially habitable astrobiological entities.
Water Packets Under Jupiter’s moon Europa
Ice-penetrating radar observations that detected the formation of a “double ridge” in Greenland suggest that Europa’s ice sheet may have many water pockets beneath similar features commonly seen on the surface. The findings, which will be published today (April 19, 2022) in Nature Communications, may prove convincing for discovering potentially habitable environments beyond Jupiter’s moons.
Read: Persistent Water Vapor in one Hemisphere of Jupiter’s moon Europa
Is There Any Possibility Of Life On Europa?
Study lead author Dustin Schroeder said, “If you have a water sac in your sink, there’s a chance for life to exist, because it’s closer to the surface where you can get interesting chemicals from space, other moons and Io Volcano.”
Associate Professor of Geophysics, Stanford University School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “If the mechanism you see in Greenland is similar to what happens in Europe, it means that water is ubiquitous.”
What Are Scientists Analyzing?
On Earth, researchers are analyzing polar regions with onboard geophysical instruments to understand how rising and receding ice sheets affect sea level rise. Much of this study area is land dependent on complex hydrology, such as dynamic glacial lakes, surface melt pools, and seasonal ditches, where ice sheet flows contribute to uncertainty in sea level projections.
Because the interior of land is so different from Europa’s subterranean liquid ocean, the study’s co-authors were surprised to find in a lab team presentation on Europa that the features of tracking the icy moon closely resemble tiny features on its surface. Greenland Ice Sheet — An ice sheet the group studied in detail.
“We were working on something completely different from climate change and its impact on the surface of Greenland. When we looked at these little twin ridges – we could see how the ridges change from ‘not formed’ to ‘formed’ there,” said Schroeder.
Similarity In Ridges Of Greenland And Europa
Upon further investigation, they found that Greenland’s M-shaped ridge, known as the double ridge, may be a microcosm of Europa’s most prominent feature.
Double ridges on Europa appear as dramatic gashes across the moon’s icy surface, with crests reaching nearly 1000 feet, separated by valleys about a half mile wide.
Scientists have known about the features since the moon’s surface was photographed by the Galileo spacecraft in the 1990s but have not been able to conceive a definitive explanation of how they were formed.
What Are The Uses Of This Data?
Through analyses of surface elevation data and ice penetrating radar collected from 2015 to 2017 by NASA’s Operation IceBridge, the researchers revealed how the double ridge on northwest Greenland was produced when the ice fractured around a pocket of pressurized liquid water that was refreezing inside of the ice sheet, causing two peaks to rise into the distinct shape.
Features Of Europa
Europa is the smallest of Jupiter’s four Galilean moons and the sixth closest to the planet of Jupiter’s 80 known moons. It is also the sixth largest moon in the solar system.
Galileo Galilei discovered Europa in 1610 and named it after Europa, the Phoenician mother of Minos, king of Crete, and beloved of Zeus (the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Jupiter) named.
“People have been studying these twin ridges for over 20 years,” said study co-author Gregor Steinbrugge of NASA’s Planetary Systems, “but this is the first time we’ve seen something like this from Earth and see how nature can work its magic.” Gregor is also a scientist in Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and started working on the project as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford said “We are actually taking a much larger step towards understanding which processes govern the physics and dynamics of the Europa ice sheet.”
How Did The Double Ridges Form?
The co-authors say the explanation for how the double ridges form is too complex to be imagined without their equivalents on Earth.
Schroeder said, “The mechanism proposed in this paper would be too bold and complex to propose without looking at the situation in Greenland.”
The discovery gives researchers a radar signature that can quickly detect the formation of a double ridge with an ice-penetrating radar, one of the instruments currently planned to explore Europa from space.
The findings provide researchers with a radar signal that can quickly detect this double ridge formation process with ice-penetrating radar, one of the instruments currently planned to explore Europa from space.
“We are having another hypothesis on top of many hypotheses. Our hypothesis has the advantage of having some observations of similar features forming on Earth to support it,” said Kahlberg. “It opens up all these new possibilities for very interesting discoveries.”