Heat on Jupiter’s moons could stem from underground oceans

It’s been hot here in Phoenix, but that is not as unusual as the heat radiating from Jupiter’s moons. The moons of Jupiter are heating each other up – and in unexpected ways. Scientists are investigating this unnatural phenomenon and believe it may help them understand the habitability of other worlds, maybe even leading to extraterrestrial life. Dr. Hamash Hay led the research while studying his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona; he is now with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.

Three of the Jupiter’s moons are believed to have water under the surface, says Hay, and Io is thought to have a magma ocean underneath its exterior. “Because these moons have oceans beneath their surface, one moon raising tides on another, in some specific circumstances, can be more powerful than Jupiter’s tides.” Hay notes that the gravitational pull, due to the proximity of the moons, creates greater frequencies than those of Jupiter.

“So when a tidal wave is generated, the fluid, or the ocean, when it moves around will cause heating through a sort of turbulent interaction in the ocean,” said Hay. “It also will end up pushing on the hard or icy crust of the moon and that can create heating in the crust as well.”

Hay says this phenomenon could occur in any compact, planetary system with celestial bodies so long as they can get close enough to each other. “They could produce a lot of tidal heating on one another, but only if they have oceans. The oceans are key.”

When asked about the implications of these findings to discovering extraterrestrial life, Hay notes that “when life is concerned, more energy is never a bad thing.”

Check out more on Arizona Horizon.

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Hamish Hay, Postdoctoral Fellow, Jet Propulsion Lab

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