Icy Worlds

Geophysical Tests for Habitability In Ice-covered Ocean Worlds

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
May 11, 2017
Filed under
Geophysical Tests for Habitability In Ice-covered Ocean Worlds
Icy ocean world

Geophysical measurements can reveal the structure of icy ocean worlds and cycling of volatiles. The associated density, temperature, sound speed, and electrical conductivity of such worlds thus characterizes their habitability.

To explore the variability and correlation of these parameters, and to provide tools for planning and data analyses, we develop 1-D calculations of internal structure, which use available constraints on the thermodynamics of aqueous MgSO4, NaCl (as seawater), and NH3, water ices, and silicate content. Limits in available thermodynamic data narrow the parameter space that can be explored: insufficient coverage in pressure, temperature, and composition for end-member salinities of MgSO4 and NaCl, and for relevant water ices; and a dearth of suitable data for aqueous mixtures of Na-Mg-Cl-SO4-NH3. For Europa, ocean compositions that are oxidized and dominated by MgSO4, vs reduced (NaCl), illustrate these gaps, but also show the potential for diagnostic and measurable combinations of geophysical parameters.

The low-density rocky core of Enceladus may comprise hydrated minerals, or anydrous minerals with high porosity comparable to Earth’s upper mantle. Titan’s ocean must be dense, but not necessarily saline, as previously noted, and may have little or no high-pressure ice at its base.

Ganymede’s silicious interior is deepest among all known ocean worlds, and may contain multiple phases of high-pressure ice, which will become buoyant if the ocean is sufficiently salty. Callisto’s likely near-eutectic ocean cannot be adequately modeled using available data. Callisto may also lack high-pressure ices, but this cannot be confirmed due to uncertainty in its moment of inertia.

Steven D. Vance, Mark P. Panning, Simon Sthler, Fabio Cammarano, Bruce G. Bills, Sharon Kedar, Christophe Sotin, William T. Pike, Ralph Lorenz, Victor Tsai, Hsin-Hua Huang, Jennifer M. Jackson, Bruce Banerdt
(Submitted on 11 May 2017)

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Geophysics (physics.geo-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:1705.03999 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1705.03999v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Steve Vance
[v1] Thu, 11 May 2017 03:43:46 GMT (1517kb,D)


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