Europa’s small impactor flux and seismic detection predictions
Tsuji et al
Europa is an attractive target for future lander missions due to its dynamic surface and potentially habitable sub-surface environment. Seismology has the potential to provide powerful new constraints on the internal structure using natural sources such as faults or meteorite impacts. Here we predict how many meteorite impacts are likely to be detected using a single seismic station on Europa to inform future mission planning efforts. To this end, we derive: (1) the current small impactor flux on Europa from Jupiter impact rate observations and models; (2) a crater diameter versus impactor energy scaling relation for icy moons by merging previous experiments and simulations; and (3) scaling relations for seismic signal amplitudes as a function of distance from the impact site for a given crater size, based on analogue explosive data obtained on Earth’s ice sheets. Finally, seismic amplitudes are compared to predicted noise levels and seismometer performance to determine detection rates. We predict detection of 0.002–20 small local impacts per year based on P-waves travelling directly through the ice crust. Larger regional and global-scale impact events, detected through mantle-refracted waves, are predicted to be extremely rare (10−8−8–1 detections per year), so are unlikely to be detected by a short duration mission. Estimated ranges include uncertainties from internal seismic attenuation, impactor flux, and seismic amplitude scaling. Internal attenuation is the most significant unknown and produces extreme uncertainties in the mantle-refracted P-wave amplitudes. Our nominal best-guess attenuation model predicts 0.002–5 local direct P detections and 6 × 10−6−6–0.2 mantle-refracted detections per year. Given that a plausible Europa landed mission will only last around 30 days, we conclude that impacts should not be relied upon for a seismic exploration of Europa. For future seismic exploration, faulting due to stresses in the rigid outer ice shell is likely to be a much more viable mechanism for probing Europa’s interior.