Uneven Heat Transfer Mechanisms Are Responsible For The Surface Pattern Of Europa

Within our solar system, Jupiter is the fifth-farthest from the sun, and often referred to as the “red planet” due to its appearance. There are numerous moons – more than 60 discovered till date – that orbits Jupiter , out of which Europa is one that is most studied by scientists on earth. Discovered by Galileo in the beginning of the seventeenth century, there are a lot of features of this moon which still keeps scientists intrigued. Research has proven that only one side of this moon faces Jupiter while it revolves around the planet. However, thermal images of the surface of this moon have thrown up speculations about the chaotic distribution of the hot and cold parts of the surface.

It has been noted that the warmer areas are randomly concentrated near to the moon’s equator, though without much concrete evidence as to why it is so.  The warmer areas have resulted in areas with a structure of ice that is in a highly disrupted state.  These areas are called chaos terrains, and almost 40% of Europa’s surface is filled up with such terrains. Research results have shown that these terrains are most common between latitudes of 40 degrees above and below the equator. Though some assumptions about the characteristics of this moon are yet to be proved, there are others which have reached closer to conclusive results.

The scientists believe that the chaotic ice patterns on Europa’s surface have got a lot to do with the sub-surface water content. The heat transfer from within the moon towards the surface is assumed to have taken a two-dimensional flow pattern, which channels the heat towards the surface in a radial manner. This flow pattern also has variations within it, and is the main cause of the chaotic terrains. The convectional heat-transfer pattern has caused parts of the ice to melt and create sporadic pockets of liquid water. The ice and the water are so close together that there are possibilities of turbulence at the interfacing surfaces which, in turn, gives rise to the chaos.

There is evidence that the ice-drift on Europa is not uniform, and this further increases the turbulence and chaos. This model has hitherto been drawn up from laboratory experiments and scientists are keen on arranging for a space mission to Europa to gain further information. However, the latest breakthroughs in this area have proven that it is an ocean, highly turbulent in nature that is the main cause for the chaotic terrains of Europa. There are numerous cracks on the ice shell which has pointed to the fact that the non-uniform distribution of the ice is because of the ocean beneath.

The processes of creation, shaping, and forming of the ice patterns have been simulated by scientists in recent times. These simulation results have shown conclusively that ocean currents, that are irregular in nature, have been primarily responsible for the heat transfers towards the equator of Europa. According to scientists, this process has been going on for a long time and the future research results can throw up many other causes responsible for the formation of chaotic terrains. The current results have proved beyond doubt that the turbulent ocean movements on Europa are the main reason behind the ice patterns and their continual readjustments.

Leave a Reply