Jupiter's magnetic field could be moving Europa's ocean

March 12, 2019 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report
Europa
The Galileo spacecraft took this image of Europa, which is about the size of Earth's moon, in 1996. Credit: NASA.

A pair of researchers, one with École Normale Supérieure, the other Laboratory for Studies of Radiation and Matter in Astrophysics and Atmospheres has found evidence that Jupiter's magnetic field could be causing a jet stream in Europa's underground ocean. In their paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, Christophe Gissinger and Ludovic Petitdemange describe their analysis of data from the Galileo spacecraft and what they found.

The researchers started by noting that Jupiter has a very —strong enough to reach and impact its moons. They also noted that Europa's underground ocean is salty. A influencing a salty sea would result in the conduction of electricity, likely creating a jet stream in the ocean. To find out what sort of movement might occur and to uncover other possible impacts of the magnetic field on the moon's ocean, the researchers created . The simulations showed a jet stream forming somewhere near the moon's equator, moving as fast as a few centimeters per second and flowing opposite of the moon's spin. Such an opposite flow, the researchers further noted, would result in stress on the moon's surface, which could occasionally form cracks. This would explain the surface cracks observed on Europa by other researchers. They further note that not all of the energy from the magnetic field would be transferred to the ocean—some of it would dissipate off the moon, likely around the poles. And if that were the case, there would be evidence of the moon's ice shell becoming thinner as melting water made its way to the surface. And again, that is just what has been observed—plumes of water spurting out from spots near the poles.

The researchers suggest a jet stream on Europa could be compared to the Gulf Stream back here on Earth. Notably, our jet stream has been found to move compounds around in the ocean that are important for life. If Europa harbors life, its jet stream could be serving the same purpose.

Explore further: Water plumes on Europa: Tasting an extraterrestrial ocean

More information: Christophe Gissinger et al. A magnetically driven equatorial jet in Europa's ocean, Nature Astronomy (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-019-0713-3

Related Stories

Water plumes on Europa: Tasting an extraterrestrial ocean

December 7, 2018

Computer simulations of the plumes of liquid water that stream out of Jupiter's moon Europa show that the forthcoming space mission JUICE may offer an answer to the question as to whether the Jovian moon's subsurface ocean ...

Europa by the numbers

May 15, 2018

Galileo Galilei discovered Jupiter's moon Europa in 1610. More than four centuries later, astronomers are still making discoveries about its icy surface. With a diameter of almost 2,000 miles, an orbit equivalent to 3.5 Earth ...

Image: Launching the Galileo mission

October 19, 2018

Space Shuttle Atlantis deployed the Galileo spacecraft six hours, 30 minutes into the flight on Oct. 18, 1989. In this image, Galileo, mounted atop the inertial upper stage, is tilted to a 58-degree deployment position in ...

Europa's ocean ascending

July 9, 2018

This animation demonstrates how deformation in the icy surface of Europa could transport subsurface ocean water to the moon's surface.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.