Jupiter’s Icy moon Europa may have enough internal heat to trigger volcanic activity on the floor of its global ocean, according to the results of a new study. Europa is considered to be one of the most promising locations in our solar system for extraterrestrial life.
Europa’s outer surface comprises a miles-thick ice shell riven with bands and ridges, along with other pieces of unusual geology that likely results from the extreme gravitational influence of Jupiter. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that Europa hosts a global ocean beneath the surface ice, and many scientists believe that this hidden body of water may be capable of hosting primitive forms of extraterrestrial life.
As Europa completes an orbit around Jupiter, the gas giant’s gravitational influence causes the entire moon to flex. The friction brought about by this immense gravitational force causes large amounts of heat energy to build up in the moon’s rocky interior, below the global subsurface ocean. According to the new research, the heat generated by the tidal friction may be intense enough to melt through the crust, and give rise to volcanoes on the seafloor. These geological features would most likely emerge near Europa’s polar regions, where the structural stress from Jupiter’s gravity is at its greatest.
Future missions such as NASA’s Europa Clipper, which is due to arrive in the Jovian system in 2030, will be well-equipped to probe Europa for signs of deep-sea volcanic activity using instruments designed to examine the moon’s composition and gravitational properties.
Source: New Atlas