The oozing of glacial material in the floating ice shell on Jupiters 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.
Europas enigmatic ridged surface is peppered by pits and spots termed lenticulae, which is Latin for freckles. In this area, the lenticulae are all about 6 miles in diameter. Their similar sizes and spacing suggest that Europas icy shell is churning away like a lava lamp: warmer ice moves upward from the bottom of the ice shell, while colder near-surface ice sinks downward. Reddish ice that erupts onto the surface may hold clues about the composition of Europas subsurface ocean, and whether that ocean supports life. Photo courtesy Jet Prolpulsion Laboratory
Robert Pappalardo, an assistant professor in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department and one of the worlds 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."
Robert Pappalardo | EurekAlert!
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