DPS 35th Meeting, 1-6 September 2003
Session 17. Icy Galilean Satellites II
Poster, Highlighted on, Wednesday, September 3, 2003, 3:00-5:30pm, Sierra Ballroom I-II

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[17.07] Detecting Current Geological Activity on Europa

C. B. Phillips, C. F. Chyba (SETI Institute)

Jupiter’s satellite Europa could be the site of recent, or current, geological activity. Future missions to the Jovian system should search for evidence of such activity as a way to determine the potential for liquid water, and perhaps the astrobiological potential, of Europa.

1) Comparisons of images of the same portion of Europa’s surface taken on subsequent orbits or missions can be used to search for differences due to geological activity (Phillips et al 2000 JGR 105, 22579). Effective comparisons require filters at comparable wavelengths and bandpasses to Galileo (and perhaps Voyager), and images of regions observed by Galileo taken at the same phase angle, wavelength, and resolution.

2) Plume searches can include high-resolution imaging sequences at locations where periodic stresses favor plume activity, and global-scale images that include the entire limb of the planet, using a short-wavelength (UV) filter. An orbiting spectrometer could look for particular outgassed constituents. Monitoring of the space environment surrounding Europa by charged particle detectors on a future mission could allow detection of plume activity by searching for enhancements in Europa’s gas torus.

3) Visible and infrared imaging may be able to detect thermal anomalies due to intrusions of warm water / ice for times ranging up to 400 years (Van Cleve et al 1999 LPS XXX, #1815), and larger-scale thermal plumes may leave remnant areas of thin ice crust for up to 1 My (Buck et al 2002 GRL 29, 2055) that could be detected through radar sounding. Changes in water conductivity may result from seafloor eruptions, and may produce magnetic anomalies detectible from an orbiting magnetometer (Kargel 2003 JIMO forum, 37).

4) A lander or penetrator on Europa’s surface could measure heat flux and surface strain in situ, and one or more seismometers could look for fracturing events and seismic activity.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35 #4
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.