Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Colorado U. Space Team Studying Water, Ice And Potential Life On Jupiter Moon, Europa

Date:
October 28, 2002
Source:
University Of Colorado At Boulder
Summary:
The oozing of glacial material in the floating ice shell on Jupiter's moon Europa has important implications for future exploration of the enigmatic moon and prospects of life in its ice-covered ocean, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder professor.

The oozing of glacial material in the floating ice shell on Jupiter's moon Europa has important implications for future exploration of the enigmatic moon and prospects of life in its ice-covered ocean, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder professor.

Robert Pappalardo, an assistant professor in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department and one of the world's foremost Europa experts, said the icy moon is believed to contain an ocean some 13 miles under its icy surface. Satellite images appear to indicate surface warping -- including domes and reddish spots -- showing that "elevators" of sorts transport material up and down from the ocean to the surface, said the planetary scientist.

"Europa acts like a planetary lava lamp, carrying material from near the surface down to the ocean, and, if they exist, potentially transporting organisms from the ocean up toward the surface," he said. "Just a mile or two beneath the surface, the conditions may be warm enough to allow organisms to survive the journey."

The "thick shell" model of Europa has implications for the future exploration of the moon and whether the existence of life is possible in the lightless depths beneath the planet's surface, said Pappalardo. "It would be very difficult for a future spacecraft to drill all the way through a 13-mile-deep ice shell to search for life in the underlying ocean. But the motions of glacial ice may transport ocean material, and any life it might contain, to the surface."

Pappalardo and his research group at CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics are attempting to tie together pieces of an elaborate puzzle to assemble a comprehensive model of how Europa functions. The results are being reported at the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver Oct. 27 to Nov. 1.

Under similar conditions in Arctic ice on Earth, organisms can remain in a state of hibernation until exposed to warmer and wetter conditions, he said. "If life exists in Europa's ocean, organisms might be carried on a slow ride from the bottom to the top of Europa's icy crust. Sampling the surface composition may provide direct insights into the nature of the ocean deep below, and could plausibly reveal dormant organisms if they exist within Europa."

CU-Boulder graduate student Amy Barr is developing a computer model to illustrate the Europa ice motions, said Pappalardo. She is modifying a computer model that has been used to understand Earth's plate tectonics and to better understand Europa's geology, including how nutrients created by ice irradiation at Europa's surface might be transported down to the moon's oceans.

Barr's ice-convection model, the most sophisticated yet applied to Europa, may show that organisms could thrive below the thick cap of ice, Pappalardo said. It incorporates information on how the satellite's thick ice shell is heated and how it flows as it is squeezed by the gravity of Jupiter, which raises huge tides on Europa.

CU undergraduate Michelle Stempel is analyzing Europa's pattern of cracks and ridges to understand how the Jupiter tides have fractured the surface, and over what time scales the cracking has occurred. By matching stress patterns to surface geological features, she is studying where and how the surface cracks are created in response to short- and long-term deformation of the thick icy shell overlying an ocean.

Pappalardo also has teamed with Francis Nimmo of University College, London, to understand the similarities and differences between Europa and its sibling Jovian moon, Ganymede. Ganymede may hide an ocean beneath its icy crust much deeper than Europa's, although Ganymede's era of geological activity has likely long ceased. By analyzing the topography of fractures on Ganymede, the two scientists have determined that Ganymede was once nearly as warm inside as Europa is today.

"This has important implications for the history of Ganymede, and also for how Europa's surface is shaped today," Pappalardo said. "Ganymede may be a fossil version of Europa." The two scientists found similar internal and external forces that probably have influenced the two moons, but with different geological expressions.

In addition, Pappalardo is working with Nick Makris of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study how a future Europa lander could precisely determine the depth and thickness of Europa's ocean, using the same techniques routinely used by the Navy to measure the depth and composition of Earth's oceans. The two are presenting back-to-back talks at Denver's GSA meeting to illustrate how the proven terrestrial technique can apply to the exotic environment of Europa.

Pappalardo recently served on a National Research Council panel that reaffirmed a spacecraft should be launched in the coming decade with the goal of orbiting Europa. The Europa Geophysical Explorer would have scientific objectives that include confirming the presence of an ocean, remotely measuring the composition of the surface and scouting out potential landing sites for a follow-on lander mission.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Colorado At Boulder. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Colorado At Boulder. "Colorado U. Space Team Studying Water, Ice And Potential Life On Jupiter Moon, Europa." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2002. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/10/021025064617.htm>.
University Of Colorado At Boulder. (2002, October 28). Colorado U. Space Team Studying Water, Ice And Potential Life On Jupiter Moon, Europa. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/10/021025064617.htm
University Of Colorado At Boulder. "Colorado U. Space Team Studying Water, Ice And Potential Life On Jupiter Moon, Europa." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/10/021025064617.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

AFP (July 30, 2014) The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is takes off to the International Space Station on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Duration: 00:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins