The Detectability of Heat Flow Signatures on Europa
Friday, 19 December 2014
Europa is planetary body with a young, tectonically active ice shell and a subsurface liquid water ocean. These characteristics make it one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for extant life beyond Earth. Conventional wisdom dictates that temperatures at the surface of Europa's ice shell are not expected to exceed 130K, which is well below the stability temperature of liquid water or brines. However, the regional or local-scale surface temperatures on Europa could be elevated due to regional or local scale heat flow anomalies as manifested by regional variations in tidal heating, recent cracks in the ice shell, or episodic eruptive plumes. Using a sophisticated ray-tracing thermal model developed for the moon and Mercury, we have explored the potential detectability of a range of heat flow anomalies on Europa from remote sensing measurements of the thermal emission and solar reflection from the Europa's surface. We find that the thermal emission signatures of potential heat flow anomalies can be differentiated from those caused by topography, roughness, exposed ice blocks and Jupiter shine. We further quantify the requirements for accuracy and signal-to-noise, as well as the requirements, for spatial, spectral and diurnal coverage, and conclude that heat flow signatures from sites of recent plume activity should be readily detectable, even if they are not currently active.