Professor Shawn Dry
14 June 2010
Why Should We Explore Jupiter’s Moon Europa?
The planet Jupiter, some 500 million miles from Earth is a very unique planet. Besides being 1200-1500 (estimates vary) times larger than the Earth, The planet Jupiter is surrounded by a small solar system by itself. The planet Jupiter has some 72 moons orbiting it at present count, and these moons come in all shapes, sizes, and physical variations. Many of these moons have quite interesting characteristics, such as the moon Io, which has volcanic geysers that blast hot material some 300 miles above its surface, and mountains reaching heights as tall as 52,000 feet. But in contrast to Io, the moon Europa is a frozen world. But, without a doubt, the most interesting place in the Jupiter system of moons is the moon Europa: the moon with a massive liquid ocean hidden beneath 7 miles of ice. If one applies common sense, it would be natural to assume that a body in deep space smaller than our Moon, in temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero, would be an incredibly cold and frozen rock solid. And for the most part one would be right. But because Jupiter has so much mass, it creates a gigantic gravitational effect on its near-by moons. Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), formally described this force as “gravity”, in his scientific masterpiece the Principia (Spielvolgel 379). Newton’s law of universal gravity basically states that the gravitational force of an object is tied directly to its size. Thus, as Europa orbits Jupiter in a highly elliptical orbit, from a point far away from Jupiter, then moving to a point closest towards Jupiter, Jupiter’s massive gravity pulls on, and deforms Europa, from the shape of a sphere to that of a football, about every 74 hours. As Europa moves back and forth in its elliptical orbit around Jupiter, it creates a great deal of internal heating inside Europa, due to the tremendous tidal forces of Jupiter’s gravity (Tyler 770). The...