DDA2001, April2001
Session 5. Satellites
Tuesday, 8:30-10:20am

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[5.01] Europa's Habitability follows from Classical Dynamical Astronomy

R. Greenberg (Lunar and Planetary Lab, Univ. of Arizona)

Celestial mechanics is responsible for Jupiter's satellite Europa being a possible site for life in the solar system. The Laplace orbital resonance drives a substantial eccentricity. The mutually dependent relationship between orbital and rotational evolution and tidal processes in turn controls Europa's heating and stress. Heat is likely adequate to maintain a liquid water ocean, and to keep the surface ice thin. Tidal stress can explain characteristic and ubiquitous crack patterns (global and cycloidal), as well as drive observed shear displacement features. The characteristic ridge sets that cover tectonic terrain are likely built by tidal pumping of oceanic fluid and slush through cracks to the surface on a daily basis. Nearly half the surface is chaotic terrain, with morphology and other characteristics indicative of melt-through from below. Formation of both chaotic and tectonic terrains has continually resurfaced the satellite, while connecting the ocean to the surface and providing a variety of evolving environmental niches. As a result of tides, liquid water would daily bathe crustal cracks and surfaces with heat, transporting and mixing substances vertically. Thus a variety of habitable environments likely exist in the crust. Moreover, exposure of the ocean to the surface in the ways described here satisfies a necessary condition for life in the ocean as well, by providing access to oxidants which are available near the surface. These processes were recent, and thus most likely continue today. Longer term changes in environmental conditions in the crust, such as deactivation of individual cracks after thousands of years (due to non-synchronous rotation) and later crustal thawing (releasing any trapped organisms), provided drivers for adaptation, as well as opportunity for evolution.

This work is supported by the NASA Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program and the NSF Life in Extreme Environments Program.

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