Bizarre Underwater Snow Gives Clues About the Icy Shell of Jupiter’s Moon Europa - SciTechDaily

Bizarre Underwater Snow Gives Clues About the Icy Shell of Jupiter’s Moon Europa - SciTechDaily

Bizarre Underwater Snow Gives Clues About the Icy Shell of Jupiter’s Moon Europa - SciTechDaily
Aug 16, 2022 1 min, 36 secs

According to research from UT Austin, Europa’s ice shell could be made of the same stuff.

Below the thick icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa is a massive, global ocean where the snow floats upwards onto inverted ice peaks and submerged ravines.

That’s crucial information for mission scientists preparing NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft, which will use radar to scan beneath the ice shell to see if Europa’s ocean could be hospitable to life.

The study was led by The University of Texas at Austin, which is also leading the development of Europa Clipper’s ice-penetrating radar instrument.

Knowing what kind of ice Europa’s shell is made of will also help determine the salinity and habitability of its ocean.

An illustration of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft flying by Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“When we’re exploring Europa, we’re interested in the salinity and composition of the ocean, because that’s one of the things that will govern its potential habitability or even the type of life that might live there,” said the study’s lead author Natalie Wolfenbarger, a graduate student researcher at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) in the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. .

“It sets the stage for how we might prepare for Europa Clipper’s analysis of the ice.”.

According to co-author Donald Blankenship, the research is validation for using the Earth as a model to understand the habitability of Europa.

Blankenship is a senior research scientist at UTIG and principal investigator for Europa Clipper’s ice-penetrating radar instrument.

“We can use Earth to evaluate Europa’s habitability, measure the exchange of impurities between the ice and ocean, and figure out where water is in the ice,” he said.

Wolfenbarger is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in geophysics at the UT Jackson School and is a graduate student affiliate member of the Europa Clipper science team. 

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