February 14, 2013 – NASA Probe Data Show Liquid Water Evidence on Europa: Europa’s “Great Lake” is pictured above. Researchers predict many more such lakes are scattered throughout the moon’s icy shell.
Data from a NASA planetary mission have provided scientists evidence of what appears to be a body of liquid water, equal in volume to the North American Great Lakes, beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
The data suggest there is significant exchange between Europa’s icy shell and the ocean beneath. This information could bolster arguments that Europa’s global subsurface ocean represents a potential habitat for life elsewhere in our solar system.
The data open up some compelling possibilities. However, scientists worldwide will want to take a close look at this analysis and review the data before we can fully appreciate the implication of these results.
NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, launched by the space shuttle Atlantis in 1989 to Jupiter, produced numerous discoveries and provided scientists decades of data to analyze. Galileo studied Jupiter, which is the most massive planet in our solar system, and some of its many moons.
One of the most significant discoveries was the discovery of a global saltwater ocean below the surface of Europa. This ocean is deep enough to cover the whole surface of Europa and contains more liquid water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.
Scientists now see evidence that Europa’s a thick ice shell can mix vigorously, creating giant shallow lakes. That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable.
Scientists focused on Galileo images of two roughly circular, bumpy features on Europa’s surface called chaos terrains. Based on similar processes seen on Earth — on ice shelves and under glaciers overlying volcanoes — they developed a four-step model to explain how the features form. The model resolves several conflicting observations.
This recent analysis shows the chaos features on Europa’s surface may be formed by mechanisms that involve significant exchange between the icy shell and the underlying lake. This provides a mechanism or model for transferring nutrients and energy between the surface and the vast global ocean that exists below the ice shell. This is thought to increase the potential for life there.
Astronomers and scientists their findings are true, based on observations of Europa from Galileo and of Earth. One of NASA’s future spacecraft missions is designed to probe the ice shell. This mission has top priority at NASA.
This new understanding of processes on Europa would not have been possible without the foundation of the last 20 years of observations over Earth’s ice sheets and floating ice shelves.
Galileo was the first spacecraft to directly measure Jupiter’s atmosphere with a probe and conduct long-term observations of the Jovian system. The probe was the first to fly by an asteroid and discover the moon of an asteroid.
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