Europa, tidally heated oceans, and habitable zones around giant planets

Ray T. Reynolds, Christopher P. McKay, James F. Kasting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Tidal dissipation in the satellites of a giant planet may provide sufficient heating to maintain an environment favorable to life on the satellite surface or just below a thin ice layer. In our own solar system, Europa, one of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter, could have a liquid ocean which may occasionally receive sunlight through cracks in the overlying ice shell. In such a case, sufficient solar energy could reach liquid water that organisms similar to those found under Antarctic ice could grow. In other solar systems, larger satellites with more significant heat flow could represent environments that are stable over an order of Aeons and in which life could perhaps evolve. We define a zone around a giant planet in which such satellites could exist as a tidally-heated habitable zone. This zone can be compared to the habitable zone which results from heating due to the radiation of a central star. In our solar system, this radiatively-heated habitable zone contains the Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-132
Number of pages8
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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