Model image: J. Wicht; Europa: Univ. of Arizona, JPL/NASA
Europa, the sixth-closest moon of Jupiter, is covered with icy chunks that have been cracked and crunched into chaotic patterns.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure what processes form and shape the patterns. But new computer simulations show turbulent global ocean currents that move Europa’s internal heat to the surface most effectively in regions closest to the moon’s equator.
That varied heat distribution pattern could allow more changes to the ice features and could explain the formation of the chaotic ice patterns at the moon’s lower latitudes, researchers report December 1 in Nature Geoscience.
It’s not yet clear whether the model, scaled up from laboratory experiments and simulations, fully captures the moon’s dynamics. But, without a space mission to Europa, the model provide scientists with the best understanding to date of the moon’s ice and ocean, according to a News & Views article accompanying the research.