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28th Nov’ 2001

A 2 Pages Term Paper on Europa

     Europa is the sixth largest moon of Jupiter in our solar system. Europa has attracted attention because of a possible subsurface ocean.

    NASA approved a 2- year study called “GEM”-Galileo Europa Mission from 1998-2000, where Galileo focused on the icy Europa. The observations of Europa supported the theory that an ocean of water currently exists below the surface. This led to–the Galileo Millennium Mission, 2001.

    Galileo shows that Europa has low ridges, straight and curved, which crisscross the surface. Possessing more water than the total amount found on earth, Europa appears to have had a salty ocean beneath its icy cracked and frozen surface. Galileo images show ice "rafts" the size of cities that appear to have broken off and drifted apart, a frozen "puddle" smooth over older cracks, warmer material bubbles up from below to blister the surface, evaporative-type salts are exposed. A remarkable lack of craters shows the surface to be relatively young.

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    The heat generated by the expansion and contraction called as tidal flexing may be enough to melt part of the crust underneath the surface, creating oceans below. This possibility of liquid water just below Europa’s surface has caused the scientists to think about the possibility of marine life. Scientists have already found marine life on earth that thrives in the deep oceans near the hydrothermal vents.

     “Galileo's instruments completed observations designed to detect any magnetic disturbances triggered by electrical currents set up in a possible ocean lying beneath Europa's icy crust.” (Media Relations Office, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Pasadena, California-Galileo Mission Status-January 4, 2000)

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    Impact craters on Europa -- the jovian satellite that scientists say may hide a subsurface liquid ocean - show that the moon's brittle ice shell crust is more than 3 to 4 kilometers thick, two scientists report in Science (University of Arizona News Release. November 9, 2001) to explore an ocean - if it does indeed exist - scientists have to know the thickness of the overlying ice. Elizabeth P. Turtle and Elisabetta Pierazzo’s of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory numerically simulated impacts powerful enough to produce central peaks in impact craters imaged by the Galileo spacecraft. At least six of 28 impact craters observed by Galileo and Voyager have well defined central peaks.

    Turtle said. "What we're seeing here on Europa appears to be standard central peaks. Since central peaks are deep material that's been uplifted, that means these impacts could not have penetrated through Europan ice to water. Water would not have been able to form and maintain a central peak." Researchers also have hypothesized that Europa might have a thick ice shell composed of a thin brittle layer over warm convecting ice. But Turtle and Pierazzo's research shows that the impacts couldn't have even penetrated to warm ice.

    Thus, we still cannot conclude if a possible ocean exists under the subsurface of Europa. Further exploration and analysis are obviously required.

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Works Cited

Media Relations Office, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Pasadena, California-Galileo Mission Status
January 4, 2000.

Turtle, Elizabeth P. and Pierazzo, Elisabetta. University of Arizona News Release, November 9, 2001
 
 


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