NASA’s Europa Clipper Mission to Provide Insights into Moonquakes and Geology of Icy Moons

NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission, scheduled for 2024, is set to provide a significant boost to research on Jupiter’s moon Europa. The mission will provide imagery and other science data, and the spacecraft will conduct about 50 flybys of Europa after reaching Jupiter in 2030. The mission’s sophisticated payload of nine science instruments will be used to determine if Europa, which scientists believe contains a deep internal ocean beneath an outer ice shell, has conditions that could be suitable for life.[0] Europa Clipper’s main science goal is to determine whether there are places below the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon that could support life. By conducting a comprehensive investigation of Europa, the mission aims to enhance scientists' comprehension of the likelihood of habitable exoplanets with astrobiological potential.

Geological activity has been observed on several moons covered in ice that orbit the massive planets in the outer regions of our solar system.[0] The powerful gravitational force of Jupiter and Saturn leads to the stretching and pulling of the celestial bodies revolving around them, resulting in moonquakes that can fracture the surface and crusts of the moons.[0] The latest findings reveal that seismic activity can initiate landslides that result in exceptionally even landscapes, marking the first time this phenomenon has been observed.[0]

It is frequently observed on the icy moons Europa, Ganymede, and Enceladus that steep ridges are encompassed by comparatively even, level surfaces. Theorists among scientists suggest that these spots are consequences of the flow of liquid from icy volcanoes.[0] The process of how it works when the surface temperatures are so cold and hostile to fluids has yet to be understood.[0]

The study provides a straightforward explanation that does not include the presence of surface liquid.[0] Scientists measured the dimensions of the steep ridges, which are believed to be tectonic fault scarps – steep slopes caused when the surface breaks along a fault line and one side drops.[0] They utilized seismic models to gauge the intensity of previous moonquakes and concluded that they possessed enough force to elevate rubble, which subsequently descends down the slope and levels the terrain.[0] “We found the surface shaking from moonquakes would be enough to cause surface material to rush downhill in landslides,” said lead author Mackenzie Mills, a graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson.[0]

The modeling results for tectonic activity and quakes on Saturn's moon Enceladus were especially surprising.[0] Despite its small size, quakes on Enceladus could be large enough to fling icy debris right off the surface and into space.[0]

The high-resolution images obtained by Europa Clipper will aid scientists in assessing the intensity of previous moonquakes on Europa. The latest discoveries can be utilized by researchers to comprehend the extent to which earthquakes have displaced ice and other surface materials.[0]

“We hope to gain a better understanding of the geological processes that have shaped icy moons over time and to what extent their surfaces may still be active today,” said Robert Pappalardo, project scientist of Europa Clipper at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Overall, the Europa Clipper mission is expected to provide valuable insights into the potential for habitable worlds beyond our own, as well as the geological processes that shape these moons over time.

0. “Icy Moonquakes: Surface Shaking Could Trigger Landslides” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 14 Apr. 2023,

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