Tags: europa | tectonic | plates | jupiter | ice

Europa Tectonic Plates: Jupiter's Icy Moon May Have Sliding 'Continents'

Image: Europa Tectonic Plates: Jupiter's Icy Moon May Have Sliding 'Continents'
A undated picture showing a reprojection of the official USGS basemap of Jupiter's moon Europa, centered at the estimated source region for potential water vapor plumes that might have been detected using the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SETI INSTITUTE/EPA /Landov)

By    |   Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 08:06 AM

Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, may have a system of plate tectonics just like Earth, with giant slabs of ice repeatedly sliding over and under each other in the type of movement some scientists believe is essential for planet life.

Scientists theorize that tectonic plate movements on Earth replenish the planet's nutrients and help to stabilize the planet's climate by recycling carbon, and could do the same on other planets, Space.com noted. Simon Kattenhorn, of the University of Idaho, told the website that finding a similar system on Europa was surprising.

"From a purely science or geological perspective, this is incredible," Kattenhorn said after studying photos taken from NASA's Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. He and John Hopkins University's Louise Prokter teamed up to dissect the images. "Earth may not be alone. There may be another body out there that has plate tectonics. And not only that, it's ice."

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In a statement released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology on Monday, Prokter said that the study solved a mystery as to how the moon was able to generate what appeared to be a fresh surface.

"We have been puzzled for years as to how all this new terrain could be formed, but we couldn't figure out how it was accommodated," she said. "We finally think we've found the answer."

Scientists believe that Europa, which is slightly smaller than Earth, has numerous cracks and ridges.

"Surface blocks are known to have shifted in the same way blocks of Earth's outer ground layer on either side of the San Andreas fault move past each in California," a NASA statement said. "Many parts of Europa's surface show evidence of extension, where wide bands miles wide formed as the surface ripped apart and fresh icy material from the underlying shell moved into the newly created gap — a process akin to seafloor spreading on Earth."

Kattenhorn told Space.com that he believes Europa's ice shell is probably 12 to 19 miles thick with plates that dive down for roughly a mile.

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Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, may have a system of plate tectonics just like Earth, with giant slabs of ice repeatedly sliding over and under each other in the type of movement some scientists believe is essential for planet life.
europa, tectonic, plates, jupiter, ice
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2014-06-09
Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 08:06 AM
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