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The Great Lakes of Europa


NASA announced today that geographical features on Europa might indicate the existance of bodies of water close to the surface of the ice. 

Britney Schmidt from the University of Texas has been examining data from the Galileo probe which began exploring the Jovian system in 1995. She hypothesises that two roughly circular areas on Europa called 'chaos' terrains are similar to features seen on earth in ice shelves, and on glaciers overlying volcanoes.

Schmidt and her team have developed a model that shows how a plausible mechanism for near-surface water might be at work on Europa. This helps resolve conflicts between two opposing scientific views of Europa's surface, one contending that the ice crust must be extremely thick and the other pointing to apparent surface activity that indicates a much thinner crust.

Mary Voytek, director of NASA's Astrobiolgy Program said that the data 'opens up some compelling possibilities'.


Image credit: Britney Schmidt/Dead Pixel VFX/Univ. of Texas at Austin. 

More info including animation of how the lakes might form here

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