Scientists Discover Startling Similarities To Earth On Jupiter's Moon
A new study has uncovered formations Jupiter's moon, Europa, are startlingly similar to formations found right here on Earth, making it a potential source of 'extraterrestrial habitability'.
While some scientists are busy sending nudes into space in a bid to thirst trap any potential unidentified life forms, another group has decided to look closer to home for anything which could aid discovery.
On Tuesday, 19 April, a new study building on observations from a late 1970s trip by two of NASA's Voyager spacecraft revealed a surface area on Earth, in Greenland, could help answer questions about Jupiter's moon, Europa, which is 'a prime candidate for extraterrestrial habitability in our solar system'.
On their trip, the two Voyager spacecraft discovered Europa's 'most common surface feature' is 'double ridges', but the observation was unable to be explained. The reason why the moon had such a formation across 'every sector' remained a mystery.
After the late 1970s excursion, it was suspected that a liquid water ocean lies underneath Europa's outer ice shell, however its roughly 30km thick 'cold, rigid' outer layer has prevented planetary scientists from being able to easily sample the waters.
A similar surface has since been found back on Earth, in northwest Greenland, 'with the same gravity-scaled geometry as those found on Europa'.
After one of his colleagues showed him the image of Europa's surface, geophysicist Riley Culberg – who studies ice sheets and glaciers at Stanford University, California – stated: "It’s like, ‘Wow, this looks exactly like this super weird thing that I saw in my data from Greenland the other day'."
Scientists discovered the double ridges in Greenland had been formed 'by successive refreezing, pressurisation, and fracture of a shallow water sill within the ice sheet'.
Ice-penetrating radar observations that captured the formation of a “double ridge” feature in Greenland suggest the ice shell of Europa may have an abundance of water pockets beneath similar features that are common on the surface. @NatureComms https://t.co/DrUiPbuGin pic.twitter.com/PKgtELTUhA— Stanford Earth (@StanfordEarth) April 19, 2022
"Because water expands when it freezes, that interior water in the core of this pocket gets pressurised.
"We think eventually there was so much pressure there that it fractured, and that you have these little sort of up-shoots of water getting forced out of the water pocket and then sort of forced the surface to also dome up into these ridges," Dr Culberg said.
The paper detailed that while Europa's ridges are on a larger scale, if the same process was responsible for both Europa's ridges as well as Greenland's, then the 'results suggest that shallow liquid water is spatially and temporally ubiquitous across Europa’s ice shell'.
However, unlike Greenland's surface, which is very warm, Europa's is too cold to melt ice, but Dr Culberg explained the double ridges may have been formed by 'water from the subsurface ocean that can get forced up through fractures inside of the ice shell', or 'some kind of internal melting inside of the shell'.
The study concluded that the formation of the ice sheet in Greenland was a 'promising' parallel for the ice shell of Europa in regards to the 'shallow water dynamics in the brittle lid of Europa's ice shell'.
Subsequently, it may prove easier to test the water on Europa than first thought, as it may only be a few kilometres beneath the icy surface.
"However, significant differences in gravity, atmospheric pressure, temperature, and ice impurity content will likely lead to complex scaling relationships between the two environments," the paper stated.
In order to strengthen the research, the study noted further investigations need to be conducted 'into the effects of water migration, refreezing, and fracture on the permeability and rheology of the subsurface, as well as the interplay between surface stresses and subsurface pressure gradients'.
Dr Culberg stated: "We absolutely do drill deep ice cores through three and a half kilometres of ice in central Greenland or central East Antarctica.
"It takes a pretty big setup, it takes a lot of power – you’re not going to pop this on like a Mars-sized rover or something – and it’s going to be difficult, but this is something we do on Earth."
The study concluded by explaining that if liquid water is a 'pervasive feature' within the 'brittle lid of the ice shell', then the shallow water could reveal even more about 'Europa’s dynamics, surface morphology, and habitability than previously thought'.
The study, 'Double ridge formation over shallow water sills on Jupiter's moon Europa,' is published in the journal Nature Communications.
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