Jupiters moon Europa may be dynamic enough to harbor life

December 13th, 2008 - 1:47 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 13 (ANI): A new research has suggested that Jupiters moon Europa may have a far more dynamic ocean than previously thought, which boosts chances of the Jovian moon harboring life.

The research was conducted by Robert Tyler, an oceanographer with the University of Washingtons Applied Physics Laboratory.

If Europa is tilted on its axis even slightly as it orbits the giant planet Jupiter, then Jupiters gravitational pull could be creating powerful waves in Europas ocean, according to Tyler.

As those waves dissipate, they would give off significant heat energy.

Depending on the amount of tilt, the heat generated by the ocean flow could be 100 to thousands of times greater than the heat generated by the flexing of Europas rocky core in response to gravitational pull from Jupiter and the other moons circling that planet.

The current assumption is that oceans on moons are heated mainly by this flexing of their cores.

In the case of Europa, it also has been thought that the thick ice covering its ocean probably generates some heat as two sides of cracked ice rub together in response to gravitational pull.

If my work is correct, then the heat source for Europas ocean is the ocean itself rather than whats above or below it, Tyler said. And we must form a new vision of the ocean habitat that involves strong ocean flow rather than the previously assumed sluggish flows, he added.

Both are important considerations if exploratory missions are ever sent to Europa in search of life.

With surface temperatures as cold as minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, Europas surface is covered with a thick layer of ice.

There is evidence of a liquid ocean beneath the ice and, if there is volcanic activity on the sea floor, this could be a recipe for generating microorganisms that live without sunlight, perhaps like the microorganisms found at hydrothermal vents and other places on Earth.

Previous theoretical calculations expected Europa to have an axial tilt of at least 0.1 degrees. But, it hasnt been measured and could be bigger than this.

But, even at this minimum value, the tidal flow on Europa using Tylers new calculation is quite strong some 10 centimeters a second and enough to cause significant heating.

The new calculation differs from previous ones in that it allows a more realistic dynamic response of the ocean to the tidal forces.

According to Tylers assumptions and calculations, this kind of wave action could be the dominant heat source in the oceans of Europa and other moons. (ANI)

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