Astrobiologists from Cornell University, USA, have discovered a new way to determine the temperature of the oceans of distant planets based on the thickness of the ice sheets of these worlds, writes the scientific journal of the educational institution "Cornell Chronicle". 

Available data showing variations in ice thickness now allow predictions to be made about the upper ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

A planned orbital probe of Europa's icy shell by a NASA mission is expected to do the same for Jupiter's much larger moon, seeking answers as to whether it can support life.

The researchers suggest that a process called "ice pumping" that they observed beneath the Antarctic ice shelves probably formed the lower part of the ice sheets of Europa and Enceladus.

It should also be observed on Ganymede and Titan, the large moons of Jupiter and Saturn, respectively.

The data show that the temperature ranges where ice and ocean interact - important regions where ingredients for life can be exchanged - can be calculated based on the slope of the ice sheet and changes in the freezing point of water at different pressures and salinity.

"If we can measure the change in ice thickness, we will be able to determine the temperature of the oceans, which cannot yet be done other than by sounding," says Brittney Schmidt of the research team.

"This gives us another tool to try to understand how these oceans function. And to answer the big question of whether something lives or can live in them."

In 2019, using the remotely operated Icefin robot, Schmidt's team observed ice being pumped into a crevasse beneath the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

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By mapping the ranges of potential mantle thickness, pressure, and salinity for ocean worlds of varying gravity, the researchers concluded that ice-ocean interactions on Jupiter's moon Europa may be similar to those seen beneath the Ross Ice Shelf.

NASA's Cassini probe has generated data sufficient to predict the temperature range for Enceladus' ocean based on the slope of its ice sheet from the poles to the equator. 

Scientists expect that on Saturn's moon the ice pumping will be weak, while on the larger moon Europa it will act quickly to smooth and level the base of the ice sheet, BTA reports.

Astrobiologists believe that information about the water temperature of other worlds will allow them to assess the habitability of their oceans.

According to the scientists, their work also shows how the study of Earth's climate change can also benefit planetary science.

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