One of our other favorite icy moons is in the news again. An international team of researchers has published new work in Geophysical Research Letters detailing observations and modeling of Jupiter’s moon Europa and how the tidal forces from Jupiter and the other Galilean moons may cause enough inner heating for Europa to have volcanoes on its seafloor.
Europa is an icy moon with a vast subsurface ocean, and the reason the tiny world, not much smaller than our own Moon, is the subject of so much interest and speculation is that that ocean could have seafloor volcanoes similar to what we have on Earth. On Earth, those volcanoes also create hydrothermal vents that spew hot, metallic clouds, and life can be sustained on that material. If it happens once, it could happen elsewhere. The big question has been whether or not Europa has enough internal heat to create a magma layer.
And this new research says yes. Per the press release: The research models in detail how Europa’s rocky part may flex and heat under the pull of Jupiter’s gravity. It shows where heat dissipates and how it melts that rocky mantle, increasing the likelihood of volcanoes on the seafloor.
All of this work is being done in anticipation of the Europa Clipper mission, which is currently scheduled to launch in the mid-20s and arrive at Europa in 2030. Between this news, the upcoming mission, and all the work being done on Mars, I think we’re going to find evidence of at least microbiologic life on another world in my lifetime.
NASA JPL press release
“Tidally Induced Magmatic Pulses on the Oceanic Floor of Jupiter’s Moon Europa,” Marie Běhounková et al., 2020 December 22, Geophysical Research Letters