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Science

Oceans of Opportunity


Illustration of a water-covered planet viewed from its surface: In the foreground is rippling water reflecting pink, yellow, and white light from a glowing phenomenon in the distance, in the middle of the illustration. Surrounding the bright phenomenon are bright stars and translucent clouds visible in front of a dark background.

Otherworldly Oceans

Cover of the October 2023 issue of Eos

This month, we will be exploring the depths of outer space.

Scientists are encouraging space agencies to explore the strange and fascinating ocean worlds within our solar system. These planets and moons are covered in layers of ice and offer a unique opportunity for discovery. In her article, “Uranus: A Time to Boldly Go,” Kimberly Cartier explains that the ice-blue ice giant has a tilt of over 90°, is massive but surrounded by tiny micrometer-sized particles, and has many mysterious moons. The planet’s magnetosphere is also a topic of interest, with planetary scientist Mark Hofstadter stating that it challenges our current understanding of planetary processes.

Scientists studying oceanic worlds such as Enceladus and Europa are starting their research on land. In his article “Marine Science Goes to Space,” Damond Benningfield explores how our understanding of habitable zones is changing thanks to these ocean worlds and how future missions like JUICE and Europa Clipper are using advancements in deep-sea research to search for signs of extraterrestrial ocean activity. Even past missions, like Cassini, are still playing a role in our understanding, as data from the spacecraft revealed the presence of phosphorus, a crucial element for life, on Enceladus.

In addition to studying the ocean, planetary scientists are also observing Earth’s volcanoes in order to gain insights into extraterrestrial eruptions. Some of these eruptions are unlike anything seen on Earth. The outer solar system’s ice volcanoes are believed to erupt with substances like ammonia instead of silicates, providing clues about the potential for life on their respective planets. However, evidence of these icy eruptions is difficult to capture and study due to their fleeting nature. Volcanologist Sarah Fagents explains that the topography created by water is not as permanent as that created by other materials. Meanwhile, fellow volcanologist Erik Klemetti delves into the topic of “Cryovolcanism’s Song of Ice and Fire.”

Scientists on Earth have carefully documented environmental changes and believe that these data sets should be considered as World Heritage sites. Emma J. Rosi, Emily S. Bernhardt, Irena Creed, Gene E. Likens, and William H. McDowell argue for the protection of various data sets, such as the Keeling curve and the flowering dates of Kyoto’s cherry trees. Check out “Taking the Pulse of Global Change with World Heritage Data Sets” for further information.

“I am the Editor in Chief, Caryl-Sue Micalizio.”

Reference: Micalizio, C.-S. (2023). Oceans of opportunity. Eos, 104. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1029/2023EO230366 on September 25 2023.

Text © 2023. AGU. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

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