Exoplanets & Exomoons

The Longevity of Water Ice on Ganymedes and Europas Around Migrated Giant Planets

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
March 21, 2017
Filed under
The Longevity of Water Ice on Ganymedes and Europas Around Migrated Giant Planets

The gas giant planets in the Solar System have a retinue of icy moons, and we expect giant exoplanets to have similar satellite systems.

If a Jupiter-like planet were to migrate toward its parent star the icy moons orbiting it would evaporate, creating atmospheres and possible habitable surface oceans. Here, we examine how long the surface ice and possible oceans would last before being hydrodynamically lost to space. The hydrodynamic loss rate from the moons is determined, in large part, by the stellar flux available for absorption, which increases as the giant planet and icy moons migrate closer to the star.

At some planet-star distance the stellar flux incident on the icy moons becomes so great that they enter a runaway greenhouse state. This runaway greenhouse state rapidly transfers all available surface water to the atmosphere as vapor, where it is easily lost from the small moons. However, for icy moons of Ganymede’s size around a Sun-like star we found that surface water (either ice or liquid) can persist indefinitely outside the runaway greenhouse orbital distance.

In contrast, the surface water on smaller moons of Europa’s size will only persist on timescales greater than 1 Gyr at distances ranging 1.49 to 0.74 AU around a Sun-like star for Bond albedos of 0.2 and 0.8, where the lower albedo becomes relevant if ice melts. Consequently, small moons can lose their icy shells, which would create a torus of H atoms around their host planet that might be detectable in future observations.

Owen R. Lehmer, David C. Catling, Kevin J. Zahnle
(Submitted on 20 Mar 2017)

Comments: Accepted by The Astrophysical Journal
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1703.06936 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1703.06936v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Owen Lehmer
[v1] Mon, 20 Mar 2017 19:27:34 GMT (1125kb)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻