17 November 2011

Lake of Water on Jupiter Moon Europa

Scientists have found evidence that there are under-ice lakes of water near the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter's moon. (NASA video in post).

The results were published in the journal Nature.

These lakes are predicted to be just around 3 kilometers below the crust covered by a layer of ice. As they stated in their study, "...guided by processes observed within Earth's subglacial volcanoes and ice shelves. The data suggest that chaos terrains form above liquid water lenses perched within the ice shell as shallow as 3 kilometres. Our results suggest that ice–water interactions and freeze-out give rise to the diverse morphologies and topography of chaos terrains. The sunken topography of Thera Macula indicates that Europa is actively resurfacing over a lens comparable in volume to the Great Lakes in North America.."

The cracks on the surface of Europa are similar to those found on Antarctica. These glaciers and ice shelves also form cracks by the rising of warmer water which causes the surface to crack and at the same time form another layer of freshly formed ice. They theorized that This process could transfer nutrients between the surface water and the ocean's depths.

Video: Announcement of Europa Lake discovery.

"That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable," said lead author Britney Schmidt from the University of Texas at Austin, US, who analysed images collect by the Galileo spacecraft launched in 1989.

The results are awaiting confirmation of their discovery by radar probing. Both the US and Europe are planning space missions to Europa and other moons of Jupiter to verify and collect data. These may happen in five years or so.

Video: Proposed Space Mission to Europa and other moons of Jupiter