The circulation of liquid water beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa may explain the chaotic jumble of cracks and ridges in its equatorial regions, reports a study published online in Nature Geoscience. Although never directly observed, this hidden ocean may hold the key to Europa’s enigmatic surface geology.
Krista Soderlund and colleagues used a computer model to study the circulation of Europa’s subsurface ocean. They found that the patterns of currents preferentially deliver heat towards the moon’s surface in equatorial regions. They suggest that heating at the base of Europa’s ice shell could drive melting and disruption of the ice, and potentially explain the formation of the perplexing chaotic terrains observed at Europa’s surface at low latitudes.
In an accompanying News and Views article, Jason Goodman writes that without a mission to Europa on the horizon, the models “provide us with our best hope of understanding Europa’s hidden ocean for the foreseeable future.”