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Jupiter's moons are hot.

Well, hotter than they should be, for being so far from the sun. In a process called tidal heating, gravitational tugs from Jupiter's moons and the planet itself stretch and squish the moons enough to warm them. As a result, some of the icy moons contain interiors warm enough to host oceans of liquid water, and in the case of the rocky moon Io, tidal heating melts rock into magma.

Researchers previously believed that the gas giant Jupiter was responsible for most of the tidal heating associated with the liquid interiors of the moons, but a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters found that moon-moon interactions may be more responsible for the heating than Jupiter alone.

"It's surprising because the moons are so much smaller than Jupiter. You wouldn't expect them to be able to create such a large tidal response," said the paper's lead author Hamish Hay, a postdoctoral fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who did the research when he was a graduate student in the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

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Category: Science