A new NASA study suggests that the eruptions of the Jupiter satellite come from shallow liquid water tanks; the Europa Clipper Zone, which will be launched in 2024, will be able to carry out research in this area.
First step in finding life in the solar system
Data collected by the Galileo probe showed that there are also water deposits inside the ice crust, and researchers are now trying to understand the behaviour of these liquid masses, such as water vapour geysers and cryovulcan eruptions, can actually come from these small lakes.
"," says Elodi Lesage, a scientist from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the lead author of the study. "Our results provide new information on how deep water can be a driving force for surface activity, including geysers." The proximity of these water tanks to the surface is crucial for the probe to explore as closely as possible.
Different deposits at different depths
Computer simulation simulates what scientists could find inside the ice if they could drill Europe's surface. According to models, there are probably two types of tanks depending on the depth on which they are located.
- At a depth of between 4 and 8 kilometres, where the ice is colder and more fragile, there are broad flat deposits of water. The ice at the base of these deposits does not allow expansion, and when the pockets of water expand, they can penetrate the ice from above and cause eruptions. On the contrary, the reservoirs at the depths of more than 8 km below the earth's crust will behave differently. The expanding water will press on the warmer ice around it. This ice is soft enough to act as a pillow that absorbs pressure rather than ruptures. These pockets of water are likely to be spherical in shape as a result of continuous water compression and expansion.
The water vapour emitted by geysers reaches 200 km high and is formed by water coming out of the ground at a speed of 2,500 km/h. In the solar system, there is another satellite with water vapour plumes, and this is Encelad. However, while the expected rate of eruption in Europe is about 7,000 kg/s, the plumes on Encelade reach "total" 200 kg/s.
Europa Clipper mission
The probe will study Europe's satellite through a series of orbital orbits around Jupiter, and its launch is planned for 2024. The cargo will consist of nine scientific instruments with a total mass of more than 6,000 kg. Although the probe will be able to detect and study steam plumes, Europa Clipper will not be able to analyse the crust in depth.
Among the planned devices designed to search for pockets of underground water are REASON. This is a two-frequency radar capable of penetrating through the ice. It is designed to determine the characteristics and sensing of Europe ' s ice crust, to detect the hidden structure of the satellite ' s ice lining and its potential pockets of water inside.
", says Don Blancenship of the University of Texas Institute of Geophysics, who heads a team of radar specialists. If this theory is confirmed, REASON can see the water pockets of geysers.
Europe Clipper will be carrying other tools that can test the theories of the new study. EIS, Europe Imaging System, will be able to make high-resolution colour images of Europe. E-THEMIS, Europe-Termal Emission Imaging System, will provide multispectral high-resolution images in the medium and long infrared range. This device will help detect active objects such as exploding vents and geysers.
If plumes are exploded, they can be observed using the MISE Maping Imaging Spectrometer spectrometer for Europe; the instrument will be photographed in the near infrared range to investigate the composition of the surface of Europe by determining and mapping the distribution of organic compounds, salts, hydrocides and ice; these and other components can determine the habitat of the satellite ' s ocean.
Missions such as Europe Clipper help explore the environment in which life can exist, as we know it, and such a detailed study of Europe will help us understand whether its underground ocean is capable of sustaining life.