The new model shows how icy eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Europa occur


Stanford University researchers have developed a new model that shows a possible source of icy eruptions known to occur on the surface of Europa, one of the moons orbiting Jupiter. The model shows how the brine on Jupiter’s moon Europa can migrate inside the moon’s frozen shell, forming pockets of salt water that erupt on Europa’s surface when it freezes. These findings are important with the Europa Clipper mission to explore the upcoming moon.

Scientists know that powerful eruptions can spray into space from the moon’s surface, raising several important questions about how this happens. Astrobiologists on Earth want to know what might be leaking from within Europa in plumes, which can be kilometers high. The researchers specifically want to know if the plumes could have signs of extraterrestrial life. Another critical question is where the plumes come from within Europe.

The new model shows that the source of the plumes may be closer to Europa’s ice surface than previously predicted. The new model found that, rather than originating in the depths of Europa’s oceans, some of the eruptions could come from pockets of water embedded within the moon’s icy shell. Project researchers used images collected by the Galileo spacecraft to develop a model that explains how a combination of freezing and pressurization could lead to a cryo-volcanic eruption or a water explosion.

The research could have implications for the habitability of oceans beneath the moon’s surface. It could potentially explain similar eruptions on other icy bodies in the solar system. Europa is a prime candidate for the study because speculation suggests that the ocean beneath the moon’s icy crust may contain elements necessary to sustain life. However, if the plumes originate within the frozen shell of the moon, they may be less hospitable to life.

Researchers say it is difficult to sustain chemical energy to fuel life in shallow water tanks. The research means that there is potentially less chance of detecting the habitability of Europe’s interior from space. The focus of this particular research was an 18-mile crater over Europa known as Manannan. The crater was created tens of thousands of years ago by the impact of a comet or asteroid with the icy shell of the moon. The new model shows a way for water to move sideways within the moon’s icy crust.

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