Locked under ice, the hidden oceans of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, may be tumultuous rather than placid, a new study says.
Such oceanic unrest translates into a higher potential for life.
Robert Tyler, an oceanographer from the University of Washington, has used computer simulations to show that Jupiter's effects on its moon Europa may work differently than scientists once thought.
Rather than just stressing the moon's solid parts—squeezing its rocks and flexing a global shell of ice—Jupiter's relentless tugging may also generate huge planetary waves in Europa's submerged ocean.
These waves could be the primary vehicles for distributing energy, as heat, across Europa. The new theory counters a widely held impression that Europa's ocean is calm.
"Suddenly, now our whole conception has to be one of very energetic oceans sloshing around under this ice," Tyler said.
"I consider the specific case of Europa, but the general results apply equally to other moons with suspected oceans," he wrote in his paper, which appears in the journal Nature this week. Those moons include Jupiter's Callisto and Ganymede, along with Saturn's Enceladus and Titan.