Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists Find Evidence for Subsurface ‘Great Lake’ on Europa

18.11.2011
In a finding of significance in the search for life beyond Earth, scientists have discovered what appears to be a body of liquid water the volume of the North American Great Lakes locked inside the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa – which could represent a new potential habitat for life.

Many more such lakes exist throughout the shallow regions of Europa’s shell, the researchers predict in an online article for the journal Nature. Further increasing the potential for life, many of these lakes are covered by floating ice shelves that seem to be collapsing, providing a mechanism for transferring nutrients and energy between the surface and a vast ocean already thought to exist below the thick ice shell.

“The potential for exchange of material between the surface and subsurface is a big key for astrobiology,” says Wes Patterson, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and a co-author of the study. “Europa’s subsurface harbors much of what we believe is necessary for life but chemical nutrients found at the surface are likely vital for driving biology.”

“One opinion in the scientific community has been, ‘If the ice shell is thick, that’s bad for biology – that it might mean the surface isn’t communicating with the underlying ocean,” adds Britney Schmidt, the paper’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics. “Now we see evidence that it’s a thick ice shell that can mix vigorously, and new evidence for giant shallow lakes. That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable.”

The scientists focused on Galileo spacecraft images of two roughly circular, bumpy features on Europa’s surface called chaos terrains. Based on similar processes seen here on Earth – on ice shelves and under glaciers overlaying volcanoes – they developed a four-step model to explain how the features form on Europa. It resolves several conflicting observations, some of which seemed to suggest that the ice shell is thick and others that it is thin.

While one of the chaos terrains appears to be fully formed, the other might still be forming – an indication that Europa’s surface is still geologically active. “For quite some time, Europa geologists have been struggling figure out what these features are and how they form,” says APL’s Louise Prockter, a senior planetary scientist who has conducted numerous studies of Europa. “This is the first time that anyone has come up with an end-to-end model that explains what we see on the surface.”

The scientists have good reason to believe their model is correct, based on observations of Europa from the Galileo spacecraft and of Earth. Still, because the inferred lakes are several kilometers below the surface, the only true confirmation of their presence would come from a future spacecraft mission designed to probe the ice shell. Such a mission was rated as one of the highest priority flagship missions by the National Research Council’s recent Planetary Science Decadal Survey and is currently being studied by NASA.

“If we’re ever to send a landed mission to Europa, these areas would be great places to study,” Prockter says.

The paper, “Active formation of ‘chaos terrain’ over shallow subsurface water on Europa,” will appear as an advance online publication of Nature on Nov. 16. With Schmidt and Patterson, authors on the paper include Don Blankenship, senior research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics, and Paul Schenk, planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. The research was funded by NASA, the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, and the Vetlesen Foundation.

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu

Michael Buckley | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.jhuapl.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Convenient location of a near-threshold proton-emitting resonance in 11B
29.05.2020 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

nachricht A special elemental magic
28.05.2020 | Kyoto University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Biotechnology: Triggered by light, a novel way to switch on an enzyme

In living cells, enzymes drive biochemical metabolic processes enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very ability which allows them to be used as catalysts in biotechnology, for example to create chemical products such as pharmaceutics. Researchers now identified an enzyme that, when illuminated with blue light, becomes catalytically active and initiates a reaction that was previously unknown in enzymatics. The study was published in "Nature Communications".

Enzymes: they are the central drivers for biochemical metabolic processes in every living cell, enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very...

Im Focus: New double-contrast technique picks up small tumors on MRI

Early detection of tumors is extremely important in treating cancer. A new technique developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from normal tissue. The work is published May 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from...

Im Focus: I-call - When microimplants communicate with each other / Innovation driver digitization - "Smart Health“

Microelectronics as a key technology enables numerous innovations in the field of intelligent medical technology. The Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT coordinates the BMBF cooperative project "I-call" realizing the first electronic system for ultrasound-based, safe and interference-resistant data transmission between implants in the human body.

When microelectronic systems are used for medical applications, they have to meet high requirements in terms of biocompatibility, reliability, energy...

Im Focus: When predictions of theoretical chemists become reality

Thomas Heine, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at TU Dresden, together with his team, first predicted a topological 2D polymer in 2019. Only one year later, an international team led by Italian researchers was able to synthesize these materials and experimentally prove their topological properties. For the renowned journal Nature Materials, this was the occasion to invite Thomas Heine to a News and Views article, which was published this week. Under the title "Making 2D Topological Polymers a reality" Prof. Heine describes how his theory became a reality.

Ultrathin materials are extremely interesting as building blocks for next generation nano electronic devices, as it is much easier to make circuits and other...

Im Focus: Rolling into the deep

Scientists took a leukocyte as the blueprint and developed a microrobot that has the size, shape and moving capabilities of a white blood cell. Simulating a blood vessel in a laboratory setting, they succeeded in magnetically navigating the ball-shaped microroller through this dynamic and dense environment. The drug-delivery vehicle withstood the simulated blood flow, pushing the developments in targeted drug delivery a step further: inside the body, there is no better access route to all tissues and organs than the circulatory system. A robot that could actually travel through this finely woven web would revolutionize the minimally-invasive treatment of illnesses.

A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart invented a tiny microrobot that resembles a white blood cell...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium AWK'21 will take place on June 10 and 11, 2021

07.04.2020 | Event News

International Coral Reef Symposium in Bremen Postponed by a Year

06.04.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Black nitrogen: Bayreuth researchers discover new high-pressure material and solve a puzzle of the periodic table

29.05.2020 | Materials Sciences

Argonne researchers create active material out of microscopic spinning particles

29.05.2020 | Materials Sciences

Smart windows that self-illuminate on rainy days

29.05.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>