If the moon Europa is tilted on its axis even slightly as it orbits the giant planet Jupiter, then Jupiter's gravitational pull could be creating powerful waves in Europa's ocean, according to Robert Tyler, an oceanographer with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory and author of a letter in the Dec. 11 Nature. As those waves dissipate, they would give off significant heat energy.
Depending on the amount of tilt, the heat generated by the ocean flow could be 100 to thousands of times greater than the heat generated by the flexing of Europa's rocky core in response to gravitational pull from Jupiter and the other moons circling that planet.
That's the current assumption – that oceans on moons are heated mainly by this flexing of their cores. In the case of Europa, it also has been thought that the thick ice covering its ocean probably generates some heat as two sides of cracked ice rub together in response to gravitational pull.
"If my work is correct then the heat source for Europa's ocean is the ocean itself rather than what's above or below it," Tyler says. "And we must form a new vision of the ocean habitat that involves strong ocean flow rather than the previously assumed sluggish flows."
Both are important considerations if exploratory missions are ever sent to Europa in search of life. Europa, which is slightly smaller than Earth's moon, is one of Jupiter's 63 moons. With surface temperatures as cold as minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, Europa's surface is covered with a thick layer of ice. There is evidence of a liquid ocean beneath the ice and, if there is volcanic activity on the sea floor, this could be a recipe for generating microorganisms that live without sunlight, perhaps like the microorganisms found at hydrothermal vents and other places on Earth.
Many planets and moons are known to be tilted within their orbital plane. The Earth, for example, has an axial tilt of about 23 degrees. It's why the northern and southern hemispheres have different seasons, depending on whether they are tilted more toward or away from the sun.
Previous theoretical calculations expected Europa to have an axial tilt of at least 0.1 degrees. It hasn't been measured and could be bigger than this. But even at this minimum value the tidal flow on Europa using Tyler's new calculation is quite strong – some 10 centimeters a second – and enough to cause significant heating.
The new calculation differs from previous ones in that it allows a more realistic dynamic response of the ocean to the tidal forces.
His assumptions and calculations led him to say that he thinks this kind of wave action could be the dominant heat source in the oceans of Europa and other moons.
"But this proposal is a relatively new contender – so let's see how it does," he says. Tyler is the sole author of the letter in Nature. His work was supported by NASA's Outer Planets Research program.
Sandra Hines | EurekAlert!
A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology