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The moon Europa could have liquid water under the surface

The moon Europa could have liquid water under the surface


Europe, one of the satellites of Jupiter, it is the size of our Moon, although with a very different structure: covering its rocky interior, there is an entire icy ocean that surrounds it, creating all kinds of structures that were first revealed in the late nineties by the probe Galileo, of the POT.

The photographs showed double ‘M’ shaped ice ridges over 300 meters high and separated by valleys some 800 meters wide. Now, a new study published in Nature Communications proposes that under these structures, which can be up to ten kilometers thick, they keep pockets of liquid water in which life could make its way.

“Because it is closer to the surface, where there are chemicals from space, other moons or from volcanoes on Io (another satellite of Jupiter), there is a chance that life has a chance if there are pockets of water inside. of that shellExplain dustin schroederassociate professor of geophysics in the Stanford University School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences, and first author of the paper. “However, right now we can’t see what’s going on below the surface, so we need other systems to see what’s going on down there.”.

A terrestrial analog

The researchers point out that we would not have to look very far to find similar structures: a ‘twin’ may exist here on Earth. Specifically in Greenland, where researchers analyze the polar regions using airborne geophysical instruments to understand how the growth and retreat of ice sheets could affect sea level rise. There, scientists have also found these ‘double icy ridges’, albeit in miniature.

“It was a little serendipity; one of our colleagues showed images of these formations in Europe and I immediately remembered that I had seen something similar in the Greenland ice sheet»it states Riley Culberg, from Stanford University and an expert in the application of ice-penetrating radar, both on Earth and on other planets.

Indeed, his work focuses on the role that shallow water systems play in modulating sea level contributions from the Greenland Ice Sheet in the context of climate change. “Here, this double ridge formed in a place where water from shallow lakes and streams frequently drains near the surface and refreezes.”Culberg points out.

Analysis of surface elevation and ice-penetrating radar data collected between 2015 and 2017 by NASA’s Operation IceBridge revealed that the ice fractured around a pocket of pressurized liquid water that was refreezing. within the ice sheet, causing two peaks to rise in northwestern Greenland.

What happens on the moon Europa?

An analogous process may be occurring in Europe: “We think that pockets of water under Europa could fracture the ice, spilling out. After that fracture, the ground would freeze; later the water would emerge again, and would freeze again. This process repeated several times would cause those double crest systems Schroeder says. It is true that there are many differences between Europe and Earth, such as pressure, temperature or gravity; but the laws of physics are the same; however, the mechanism we present here would not have had as much testing without seeing what happened first in Greenland».

Much more than an ice sheet

At first it was thought that the Europa Ice Sheet was just an inert covering; however, the latest research suggests that different geological and hydrological processes may actually be taking place that cause all the fractures and accidents that populate the surface of the satellite. That is, the ice is somehow ‘alive’.

“People have been studying these double ridges for more than 20 years, but it’s the first time we’ve been able to observe something similar on Earth and see how nature works its magic.”points for his part Gregor Steinbruggeplanetary scientist, now at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) but who began work on the project as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford. “We are taking a very big step in understanding what processes actually dominate the physics and dynamics of the Europa ice sheet”.

Thanks to this work, researchers will now have clues to configure the radars of the next missions to Europe and penetrate deeper under the ice of this satellite. Still, the authors are cautious: “We are one of several hypotheses that exist to explain the phenomenon, but having an analog on Earth gives us a great advantage and opens up new possibilities for exciting discoveries”Culberg says.

Font: Patricia Biosca/ABC

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