Researchers have a theory on why Jupiter’s moons are hotter than they should be

Shane McGlaun - Sep 13, 2020, 11:12 am CDT
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Researchers have a theory on why Jupiter’s moons are hotter than they should be

Scientists believe one of the most likely places to find life inside our solar system could be on Jupiter’s moons. Recently scientists announced that Jupiter’s moons are hotter than they should be, considering that they are 483 million miles away from the sun. Previously, scientists believed that extra warmth in the moons was provided by Jupiter, but researchers now have a new hypothesis.

Scientists now believe that Jupiter’s moons are heating each other via tidal heating. The new model looks at moon-to-moon heating and has found that the gravitational interplay between the moons could cause more tidal heating than results from orbiting Jupiter. Scientist Hamish Hay from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA says that it’s surprising the moons cause so much heating despite being significantly smaller than Jupiter.

Hay says that you wouldn’t expect the moons to create such a large tidal response. Researchers hope that the discovery will help astronomers learn more about the Jovian moon system’s evolution overall. Researchers know that there are at least 79 known Jovian moons so far.

At least four of those moons are warm enough to hide oceans of liquid water under their surfaces. Io has more than 400 active volcanoes. Tidal heating works through a process known as tidal resonance were the moons essentially vibrate at certain frequencies, which is a phenomenon that happens everywhere with water, including on Earth.

Resonance creates significantly more heating, according to Hay. The scientists notes that when something is pushed at the right frequency, the oscillations get larger and larger, just as when you push a swing. While calculating these natural frequencies for the moons, the researchers discovered that Jupiter’s tidal resonance alone doesn’t match the size of the oceans thought to be under the surface of some of the moons. Scientists are continuing the research with the ultimate goal of understanding the source for all the heat and its influence on the evolution and habitability of worlds across the solar system.


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