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The librations, shape, and icy shell of Europa
Van Hoolst, T.; Rambaux, N.; Karatekin, O.; Dehant, V.; Rivoldini, A. (2008). The librations, shape, and icy shell of Europa. Icarus 195(1): 386-399.
In: Icarus. Elsevier. ISSN 0019-1035; e-ISSN 1090-2643, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    Europa; interiors; rotational dynamics; spin-orbit resonances; tides;solid body

Authors  Top 
  • Van Hoolst, T., more
  • Rambaux, N., more
  • Karatekin, O., more

    Europa, the smallest of the Galilean satellites, has a young icy surface and most likely contains an internal ocean. The primary objective of possible future missions to Europa is the unambiguous detection and characterization of a subsurface ocean. The thickness of the overlying icy shell provides important information on the thermal evolution of the satellite and on the interaction between the ocean and the surface, the latter being fundamental for astrobiology. However, the thickness is not well known, and estimates range from several hundred of meters to some ten of kilometers. Here, we investigate the use of libration (rotation variation) observations to study the interior structure of Europa and in particular its icy shell. A dynamical libration model is developed, which includes gravitational coupling between the icy shell and the heavy solid interior. The amplitude of the main libration signal at 3.55 days (the orbital period) is shown to depend on Europa's shape and structure. Models of the interior structure of Europa are constructed and the equatorial flattening of the internal layers, which are key parameters for the libration, are calculated by assuming that Europa is in hydrostatic equilibrium. Europa's flattened shape is assumed to be due to rotation and permanent tides, and we extend the classical Radau equation for rotationally flattened bodies to include also tidal deformation. We show that the presence of an ocean increases the amplitude of libration by about 10%, depending mainly on the thickness of the icy shell. Therefore, libration observations offer possibility of detection of a subsurface ocean in Europa and estimation of the thickness of its overlying icy shell.

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