This is a demo of the software simulation portion of one ExoQuest activity module, Ocean on Europa. You can run the simulation, but you cannot access the glossary, introductory article, student log, or other supporting materials; and you cannot save your data. For information not available in this demo, refer to the assignment and other supplemental material below.

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Is there an ocean of water under the icy surface of Europa? The Europa Orbiter mission will try to answer that question by looking for evidence of tides. As the orbiter circles Europa, a laser altimeter will measure the rises and falls of Europa's surface. A measurement will be made at the same location during each orbit. If there’s a liquid ocean under the ice, it’s predicted that the surface will rise and fall about 30 meters each time Europa orbits Jupiter. But, if Europa is solid, the surface will rise and fall no more than about 3 meters.

How to Select a Location on Europa

Your goal is to record the maximum rise and fall of tides. Europa's orbit is elliptical, which means that Eupora moves closer to and farther away from Jupiter as it circles the planet. But, like our own moon, the same side of Europa always faces Jupiter. This means that the tidal bulges will always be in the same locations on Europa, and that high tide will occur when Europa is closest to Jupiter. If you are unsure that you have recorded the maximum rise and fall of the tides, try recording from all locations, two at a time, then go back and record from the location that gave you the largest change.

How to Choose a Recording Period

A complete data set must include at least one full cycle of tides, from high tide to low tide then back to high tide again. You need to do a simple calculation to figure out how many times the orbiter must orbit Europa to capture one complete cycle. For this calculation you need the following information:

  • It takes 3.6 days for Europa to orbit Jupiter - in other words, to make one complete tidal cycle.

  • It takes the Europa Orbiter 1.25 hours to complete one orbit.

  • There are 24 hours in one day.

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