Ice-covered ocean worlds possess diverse energy sources and associated mechanisms that are capable of driving significant seismic activity, but to date no measurements of their seismic activity have been obtained. Such investigations could reveal the transport properties and radial structures, with possibilities for locating and characterizing trapped liquids that may host life and yielding critical constraints on redox fluxes and thus on habitability. Modeling efforts have examined seismic sources from tectonic fracturing and impacts. Here, we describe other possible seismic sources, their associations with science questions constraining habitability, and the feasibility of implementing such investigations. We argue, by analogy with the Moon, that detectable seismic activity should occur frequently on tidally flexed ocean worlds. Their ices fracture more easily than rocks and dissipate more tidal energy than the <1 GW of the Moon and Mars. Icy ocean worlds also should create less thermal noise due to their greater distance and consequently smaller diurnal temperature variations. They also lack substantial atmospheres (except in the case of Titan) that would create additional noise. Thus, seismic experiments could be less complex and less susceptible to noise than prior or planned planetary seismology investigations of the Moon or Mars. Key Words: Seismology—Redox—Ocean worlds—Europa—Ice—Hydrothermal. Astrobiology 18, 37–53.

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Published In

cover image Astrobiology
Volume 18Issue Number 1January 2018
Pages: 37 - 53
PubMed: 29345986


Published in print: January 2018
Published online: 1 January 2018
Accepted: 7 June 2017
Received: 27 October 2016


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Steven D. Vance
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Sharon Kedar
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Mark P. Panning
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Simon C. Stähler
Institute of Geophysics, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
Leibniz-Institute for Baltic Sea Research (IOW), Rostock, Germany.
Bruce G. Bills
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Ralph D. Lorenz
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, USA.
Hsin-Hua Huang
Institute of Earth Sciences, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.
Seismological Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
W.T. Pike
Optical and Semiconductor Devices Group, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Imperial College, London, UK.
Julie C. Castillo
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Philippe Lognonné
Univ Paris Diderot-Sorbonne Paris Cité, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Paris, France.
Victor C. Tsai
Seismological Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Alyssa R. Rhoden
School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA.


Address correspondence to:Steven D. VanceMS 321-5604800 Oak Grove DrivePasadena, CA 91109E-mail: [email protected]

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No competing financial interests exist.

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