As Nasa prepares to launch its mission to Europa, a moon around Jupiter, which is predicted to have more water than Earth’s oceans, a new study hints that the ocean isn’t the only water in this lunar world. Observations from Nasa’s Galileo orbiter reveal that salty liquid reservoirs may reside inside the moon’s icy shell.
Some of this water is expected to be close to the surface of the ice and just several kilometers below. The latest findings come days after the Juno spacecraft buzzed the lunar world going about 400 kilometers above the surface and snapping the clearest images of the jovian moon.
Scientists are trying to figure out the makeup of the subsurface lakes on Europa and understand how they behave. The paper published in the Planetary Science Journal state that these reservoirs in Europa’s icy crust, if they exist, could represent the most accessible liquid water bodies in the outer solar system.
We demonstrated that plumes or cryolava flows could mean there are shallow liquid reservoirs below, which Europa Clipper would be able to detect. 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,” Elodie Lesage, Europa scientist, said in a statement.
The paper supports the longstanding idea that water could potentially erupt above the surface of Europa either as plumes of vapor or as cryovolcanic activity and computer simulations reveal that if there are eruptions on Europa, they likely come from shallow, wide lakes embedded in the ice.
The latest computer model could be the first blueprint of what scientists might find inside the ice if they were to observe eruptions at the surface. The lakes could be hiding close to the surface about 4 to 8 kilometers, where the ice is likely to be coldest and brittle.
The Europa Clipper Mission, bound for the Jovian Moon in 2024, could use this research to look for water pockets in the ice. The probe will be equipped with the Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON), which could be put to the task.
“The new work shows that water bodies in the shallow subsurface could be unstable if stresses exceed the strength of the ice and could be associated with plumes rising above the surface. That means REASON could be able to see water bodies in the same places that you see plumes,” Don Blankenship, who leads the radar instrument team said.