Europa's Ice Crust "floats" Freely Above the Moon's Hidden Ocean, New Juno Images Suggest - Latest Global News

Europa’s Ice Crust “floats” Freely Above the Moon’s Hidden Ocean, New Juno Images Suggest

On September 29, 2022, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew closest to Europa, coming within 220 miles (355 kilometers) of the frozen surface of Jupiter’s moon. The close-up view of Europa revealed incredible details of the moon’s chaotic terrain, suggesting that its icy crust is no longer where it once was. The images also showed a newly discovered feature nicknamed the “platypus” because of its strange shape.

The findings made possible by the JunoCam images were recently published in the Planetary Science Journalwhile results from the spacecraft’s high-resolution images captured by its Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) were published in the journal JGR planets.

Europa is believed to host a salty ocean beneath its ice crust that contains twice as much water as all of Earth’s oceans combined NASA. The moon’s rugged terrain features intricate networks of ridges and dark spots, suggesting possible plumes of water vapor that may be escaping into space.

Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

The black-and-white image of Europa’s surface, taken by Juno’s SRU during the close flyby, shows a region crisscrossed by a network of fine grooves and double ridges, or pairs of long parallel lines, indicating raised structures in the ice. The small white dots seen in the image are high-energy, penetrating particles that are the result of the strong radiation environment around the Moon. Meanwhile, the dark spots could be related to fluid bubbling up beneath the ice (also known as cryovolcanic plume activity).

At the bottom right of the image is the platypus, which measures 42 miles (67 kilometers) at its widest point. It features prominent ridges and dark reddish-brown material, with a lumpy matrix material filled with ice blocks 1 to 7 kilometers wide.

At the edges of Platypus, ridge formations collapse into the distinct shape. These formations support the theory that the moon’s icy shell may be giving way in regions where pockets of salt water from the subsurface ocean lurk beneath the surface. “These features suggest present-day surface activity and the presence of subsurface liquid water on Europa,” Heidi Becker, senior co-investigator for SRU at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a opinion.

Picture: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image editing: Björn Jónsson (CC BY 3.0)

Images captured by the visible light camera aboard the Juno spacecraft, JunoCam, show in great detail the fractures, ridges and bands that crisscross the moon’s surface. These features on the surface of Europe have therefore erased terrain that is older than about 90 million years NASA.

These surface features support the theory that Europa’s outer ice shell is moving and essentially free-floating. The so-called “true polar wander theory” states that the ice crust at the north and south poles of Europe is no longer where it once was.

“True polar wander occurs when Europa’s icy shell becomes decoupled from its rocky interior, causing high stresses on the shell that lead to predictable fracture patterns,” says Candy Hansen, a Juno co-investigator who is leading the planning for JunoCam at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, said in a statement. “This is the first time that these fracture patterns have been mapped in the Southern Hemisphere, suggesting that the impact of true polar wander on the surface geology of Europe is more extensive than previously thought.”

The JunoCam images led to a reassessment of a striking feature on Europa’s surface. Hansen found that Gwern, originally thought to be an impact crater 13 miles (21 km) wide, actually crossed ridges that created an oval shadow.

NASA’s Juno mission launched in 2011 to explore Jupiter and its various moons. Europa is of particular interest to scientists who want to know whether life could have evolved on the icy moon. Because of this, the moon is receiving more spacecraft to study its strange features. NASA Europa Clipper mission is expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2030 and study Europa’s magnetic field to confirm whether an ocean actually exists beneath its icy crust. The The European Space Agency’s JUICE mission is on its way to the Jupiter system to explore the gas giant and its three oceanic moons.

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