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Understanding the nature of solar system objects from ground-based and spaceborne observations and from theoretical studies requires a detailed knowledge of the materials making up these bodies. The JPL Ice Physics Laboratory is dedicated to the characterization of icy material thermophysical properties, especially of exotic ices such as clathrate hydrates. The JPL Ice Physics Laboratory hosts six novel experimental facilities (Planetary Tides Simulation, Cryogenic Calorimeter, Thermal Conductivity, Dielectric Properties, Titan Lake Chamber, and Rheometer) and employs three large analytical facilities (cryo-Scanning Electron Microscope, optical cryo-microscope, Raman spectrometer). The facilities rely on the state of the art technology in order to approach environmental conditions expected in icy bodies throughout the Solar system that have not been probed until present. Thanks to optimum thermal control, the Planetary Tides Simulation Facility can reproduce tidal stresses in icy materials at the forcing periods of Europa and Enceladus. The Cryogenic Calorimeter is being equipped with the capability to handle high-pressure conditions characteristic of Enceladus’ icy shell; a Cryogenic Thermal Conductivity probe is being assembled to measure the thermal conductivity of icy compositions as a function of stress to be used in models to obtain a better understanding of the geological development of icy satellites; a cryogenic microwave cavity tuned to the Cassini radar frequency of 13.8 GHz is being assembled to measure the permittivity of liquid methane/ethane mixtures in order to estimate the depth of Titan lakes; the Titan Lake Chamber is the first of its kind, capable of simulating the formation of droplets of hydrocarbons and their interaction with ice under Titan surface’ conditions; the Ice Physics Laboratory also hosts the only Rheometer Facility dedicated to the measurement of slurries of water and ammonia or methanol hydrates. All icy samples used by these facilities are developed in the Ice Factory, which is also available to serve other research groups.

JPL Ice Physics Lab Feature

Icy Bodies Missions
All missions targeting icy bodies, such as outer solar system satellites, e.g., Cassini-Huygens to Titan and the Saturnian system, Galileo Mission to the Jovian system, New Horizons mission to Pluto and Charon, as well as the prospective Europa and Jupiter System Mission.

  • The Planetary Tides Simulation Facility yields constraints on the attenuation properties of icy materials that can be then used to model tidal heating in outer planet satellites
  • Results from the Rheometer Facility will help to model cryovolcanic activity, a process believed to take place in some icy satellites.
  • Clathrate hydrates are reservoirs of volatiles throughout the Solar system. Constraining their physical properties will help to better understand the origin of Titan’s atmosphere and cryovolcanic activity at Enceladus’ South pole.
  • Dielectric measurements are aimed to support the interpretation of Cassini RADAR observations, but will also be useful to all missions carrying high-frequency radar instruments

The Titan Chamber
This effort is part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute / JPL-Titan. Observations of liquid hydrocarbons wetting an icy surface in the Titan Lake chamber, will be used to model Titan’s surface hydrology and its geological consequences.

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