Radar probing of Jovian icy moons: Understanding subsurface water and structure detectability in the JUICE and Europa missions

Essam Heggy, Giovanni Scabbia, Lorenzo Bruzzone, Robert T. Pappalardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Citations (Scopus)


Radar probing of Jovian icy satellites is fundamental for understanding the moons’ origin and their thermal evolution as potential habitable environments in our Solar System. Using the current state of knowledge of the geological and geophysical properties of Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, we perform a comprehensive radar detectability study to quantify the exploration depth and the lower limit for subsurface identification of water and key tectonic structural elements. To achieve these objectives, we establish parametric dielectric models that reflect different hypotheses on the formation and thermal evolution of each moon. The models are then used for FDTD radar propagation simulations at the 9-MHz sounding frequency proposed for both ESA JUICE and NASA Europa missions. We investigate the detectability above the galactic noise level of four predominant subsurface features: brittle-ductile interfaces, shallow faults, brine aquifers, and the hypothesized global oceans. For Ganymede, our results suggest that the brittle-ductile interface could be within radar detectability range in the bright terrains, but is more challenging for the dark terrains. Moreover, understanding the slope variation of the brittle-ductile interface is possible after clutter reduction and focusing. For Europa, the detection of shallow subsurface structural elements few kilometers deep (such as fractures, faults and brine lenses) is achievable and not compromised by surface clutter. The objective of detecting the potential deep global ocean on Europa is also doable under both the convective and conductive hypotheses. Finally, for Callisto, radar waves can achieve an average penetration depth of ∼15 km, although the current understanding of Callisto's subsurface dielectric properties does not suggest sufficiently strong contrasts to produce unambiguous radar returns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-251
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes



  • Callisto
  • Dielectric
  • Europa
  • Ganymede
  • Radar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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