Chaotic Terrain on Pluto, Europa, and Mars

Post contributed by Helle L. Skjetne, PhD candidate, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA.

Chaos terrain is formed by disruption of preexisting surfaces into irregularly shaped blocks with a “chaotic” appearance (Image 1). This typically occurs through fracturing (that can be induced by a variety of mechanisms), and the subsequent evolution of these blocks can follow several paths (Image 2). These distinctive areas of broken terrains are most notably found on Jupiter’s moon Europa, Mars, and Pluto. Although chaos terrains on these bodies share some common characteristics, there are also distinct morphological differences between them (Image 1). The geologic evolution required to shape this enigmatic terrain type has not yet been fully constrained, although several chaos formation models have been proposed. We studied chaotic terrain blocks on Pluto, Europa and Mars to infer information about crustal lithology and surface layer thickness (Skjetne et al. 2020).

Image 1: Examples of chaotic terrain “blocks” (referring to each mountain-like topographic feature). Chaos on Pluto in a) Tenzing Montes and b) Al-Idrisi Montes, respectively (New Horizons image at ~315 m px–1), c) Hydraotes Chaos on Mars (Mars Odyssey THEMIS daytime infrared global mosaic at 100 m px–1), and d) Conamara Chaos on Europa (Galileo 210–220 m px–1 East and West RegMaps).

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Pluto, Up Close!

Post contributed by Dr Veronica Bray, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona.

Images of Pluto coming back from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft have revealed many unexpected landforms and show extreme albedo and compositional variations across the dwarf planet’s surface. This blog post concentrates on one high-resolution swath across the boundary between the cratered terrains of Viking and Voyager Terra and the smoother ices of Sputnik Planum (see Figure 1). Take time to scroll down this long image (Figure 2), that covers ~530 km of Pluto’s surface at around 30°N.

pluto

Figure 1: A global image of Pluto created from high-resolution (2.2km/pixel) panchromatic images from the LORRI instrument and lower-resolution (5km/pixel) colour data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. The colours have been enhanced to show the diversity of the surface units by combining blue, red and near infra red images. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

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