Monday, September 8, 2014

Jupiter's Moon Europa Could Have Tectonic Plates, Like Earth

 

Just when you thought Jupiter's icy moon Europa couldn’t possibly get more interesting, it does. Scientists have announced that the celestial body might in fact have giant moving tectonic plates. As they wrote in their paper published in Nature Geoscience, that could make it "the only Solar System body other than Earth to exhibit a system of plate tectonics."

Using high-resolution images collected by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft between 1995 and 2003, geologist Simon Kattenhorn and planetary scientist Louise Prockter studied a specific region of Europa that was lucky enough to have been photographed in-depth by the spacecraft.

Having scrutinized the images, the team suggested the existence of “a thin (~several km) brittle lid overlying a thicker, convecting ice layer with plate motions and subduction restricted to the brittle lid” in an abstract presented at the 45th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference earlier this year. 

To put it simply, Kattenhorn and Prockter suggest a form of plate tectonics on Europa whereby a thin surface layer of ice slides around on a slightly warmer and far more fluid section of ice. When one of these plates collides with another, the surface plate is forced downwards. As the plate dives further from the surface it begins to melt and therefore fuses with this warmer, convecting layer. 
"Europa may be the only Solar System body other than Earth to exhibit a system of plate tectonics."
Among evidence they found for this was the apparent removal of 20,000km squared patch of Europa's surface. Their tectonic theory could explain where it went.

For the rest of the story: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/plate-tectonics-on-europa

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