Study Reveals Impact of Ocean Currents on Rotation of Europa’s Icy Crust

The concept of extraterrestrial life has been a source of fascination for both scientists and the general public for an extended period. And the most recent research from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was released in JGR: Planets, offers more proof that there is life outside of our world. The study demonstrates the influence of ocean currents on the Europa’s icy crust rotation. This indicates that the internal ocean of the moon may be moving the ice shell along. It could possibly accelerate and decelerate its rotation over time.

Due to its potential to support life, Europa, one of Jupiter’s largest moons, has long attracted the attention of researchers. In accordance with earlier studies, Europa’s icy exterior was most likely free-floating. It rotated at a pace distinct from that of the interior rocky surface and ocean. The latest study, however, is the first to show how the icy shell rotation of Europa may be caused by the ocean currents.

The researchers simulated the motion of Europa’s ocean currents using computer modeling to get their conclusions. Scientists computed the drag or the horizontal force. This is the force that the ocean of the moon applies to the ice layer above it. The objective was to determine how the force of the ocean currents and their resistance against the icy surface would contribute to the geologic features observed on Europa’s exterior. The simulations demonstrated that ridges and cracks on the moon’s surface could be the consequence of the icy shell. The icy shell is gradually elongating and collapsing as it is pushed and pulled by the ocean currents over time.

The fact that the NASA Europa Clipper mission may shed more light on the spinning of Europa’s icy shell makes this research especially intriguing. Scientists will be able to precisely establish the rotational speed of the icy shell. By analyzing the data collected by the spacecraft, this task will be completed. The mission will look at the positions of ice surface characteristics. The goal is to assess if the moon’s icy shell has moved over time, 

Hamish Hay, a researcher at the University of Oxford and the study’s primary author, stated that now that we are aware of the potential link of both planets’ internal oceans with their surfaces. With this, we may be able to learn more about both of their geological pasts as well as Europa’s. It may be useful to use this research to understand how the rotational velocities of other ocean worlds have evolved over time.

The results also emphasize how critical it is to comprehend how ocean circulation functions in extraterrestrial environments. The researchers created detailed simulations of Europa’s ocean using methods developed for studying Earth’s ocean. This allows them to examine the subtleties of the water’s circulation and how heating and cooling impact it.

The major scientific objective of the Europa Clipper mission is to find any potential habitats for life that might exist under the icy moon of Jupiter. The mission’s thorough investigation of Europa will be useful to researchers. It will help them in understanding the astrobiological potential for habitable worlds beyond Earth.