Ganymede’s underground salt water ocean


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By measuring the interaction of Jupiter and Ganymede’s magnetic fields, scientists have been able to estimate the size of the salt water ocean in Ganymede’s interior.

A team of scientists led by Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne in Germany came up with the idea of using Hubble to learn more about the inside of the moon. “I was always brainstorming how we could use a telescope in other ways,” said Saur. “Is there a way you could use a telescope to look inside a planetary body? Then I thought, the aurorae! Because aurorae are controlled by the magnetic field, if you observe the aurorae in an appropriate way, you learn something about the magnetic field. If you know the magnetic field, then you know something about the moon’s interior.”

If a saltwater ocean were present, Jupiter’s magnetic field would create a secondary magnetic field in the ocean that would counter Jupiter’s field. This “magnetic friction” would suppress the rocking of the aurorae. This ocean fights Jupiter’s magnetic field so strongly that it reduces the rocking of the aurorae to 2 degrees, instead of 6 degrees if the ocean were not present. Scientists estimate the ocean is 60 miles (100 kilometers) thick — 10 times deeper than Earth’s oceans — and is buried under a 95-mile (150-kilometer) crust of mostly ice.

That’s more water than contained in all of Earth’s oceans.

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One comment

  • mike shupp

    This is going to really ruin my pleasure in rereading Robert Heinlein’s Farmer In The Sky.

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