Subsurface oceans and deep interiors of medium-sized outer planet satellites and large trans-neptunian objects
The detection of induced magnetic fields in the vicinity of the jovian satellites Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto is one of the most surprising findings of the Galileo mission to Jupiter. The observed magnetic signature cannot be generated in solid ice or in silicate rock. It rather suggests the existence of electrically conducting reservoirs of liquid water beneath the satellites' outermost icy shells that may contain even more water than all terrestrial oceans combined. The maintenance of liquid water layers is closely related to the internal structure, composition, and thermal state of the corresponding satellite interior. In this study we investigate the possibility of subsurface oceans in the medium-sized icy satellites and the largest trans-neptunian objects (TNO's). Controlling parameters for subsurface ocean formation are the radiogenic heating rate of the silicate component and the effectiveness of the heat transfer to the surface. Furthermore, the melting temperature of ice will be significantly reduced by small amounts of salts and/or incorporated volatiles such as methane and ammonia that are highly abundant in the outer Solar System. Based on the assumption that the satellites are differentiated and using an equilibrium condition between the heat production rate in the rocky cores and the heat loss through the ice shell, we find that subsurface oceans are possible on Rhea, Titania, Oberon, Triton, and Pluto and on the largest TNO's 2003 UB 313, Sedna, and 2004 DW. Subsurface oceans can even exist if only small amounts of ammonia are available. The liquid subsurface reservoirs are located deeply underneath an ice-I shell of more than 100 km thickness. However, they may be indirectly detectable by their interaction with the surrounding magnetic fields and charged particles and by the magnitude of a satellite's response to tides exerted by the primary. The latter is strongly dependent on the occurrence of a subsurface ocean which provides greater flexibility to a satellite's rigid outer ice shell.