The Plate Tectonics of Europa #SpaceSaturday

Above: A complex pattern of ridges and bands named Arachne Linea is seen in this false-color image of Europa’s surface taken by the Galileo spacecraft on 26 September 1998. New research shows that this landscape was formed by the jostling of nearby tectonic plates. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute.

It took a long time for the notion of plate tectonics and tectonic drift to be accepted in the main stream. In retrospect, the parts of the continents of the world really do seem to fit together perfectly, but to imagine parts of the planet so unimaginably large is hard to, well, imagine. As it turns out, things might work differently on Europa, Jupiter’s most famous moon. Here’s more from Centauri Dreams:

The study of these three areas of Europa implies that something stops plate motion from persisting and spreading, possibly because of the nature of the surface material or else the mechanism that forces plate motions in the first place. Here’s an interesting point that has further ramifications for future observations by our spacecraft: Is convergence – where surface material is lost and pre-existing terrain must be reconstructed – always apparent from the limited data we have available? We’ll need plenty of high resolution imagery from future spacecraft to make the call on that.

There is much for Europa Clipper to examine in terms of how tectonics functions here, not the least of which is the question of what drives the plate motions thus far observed on Europa. If plate tectonics is indeed as sharply limited as this study implies, just what is it that forces a plate movement and then apparently shuts it down?

Learn more!


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