Smooth Plains on Europa

Post contributed by Dr. Elodie Lesage, Laboratory of Geosciences Paris-Saclay, University of Paris-Saclay.

The young (60-100 Myrs) and active surface of the Jupiter’s icy moon Europa includes various geological features. In some locations, smooth plains have been observed on Europa, defined as features with no visible texture and an albedo lower than the surrounding terrains. The smooth plains overprint the preexisting terrains, and are confined within basins bounded by topographically high features.

Image 1: Four smooth plains on Europa. The arrows show the sunlight direction. Galileo images: (a) Image 5452r, resolution: 27 m/px; (b) Image 0713r, resolution: 57 m/px; (c) Image 0739r, resolution: 57 m/px; (d) Image 9352r, resolution: 60 m/px.

The best-resolved images of Europa’s surface were acquired by the Galileo spacecraft between 1996 and 2001. Image 1 shows four smooth plains visible in Galileo images, which share the following common characteristics: i) thin features occupying topographic lows, ii) a smooth appearance with little or no visible texture, and iii) kilometer-scale width with a quasi-circular, lobate shape. The morphology of these features suggests that they result from the flow of low-viscosity fluid, such as liquid cryomagma (i.e., briny water coming from Europa’s interior).

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The Mysterious Morphology of Hekla Cavus, Pluto

Post contributed by Dr. Caitlin Ahrens, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA.

Cryovolcanism involves the transfer of icy or gaseous subsurface materials either to the surface (eruptive) or through the subsurface (non-eruptive) of an icy planetary body. It differs from magmatism and volcanism on Earth, which involves the migration and eruption of molten rock. Cryovolcanism is thought to have operated on several icy bodies in the Solar System, including Enceladus, Triton, Pluto, and possibly Europa. Cryovolcanism results primarily from internal heat-producing processes, and excludes sublimation and condensation processes at the surface. In the case of Pluto, there is evidence for a subsurface fluid layer, the presence of cryovolcanoes, and cryovolcanic subsurface materials (called cryomagma) which can contain ammonia and methane. Due to the presence of a deformable subsurface layer, it is possible for the material to shift, causing uplift followed by a collapse-type event. This is a possible scenario at Hekla Cavus (Image 1), a large, elongated, and irregular depression situated within a much larger north-south (N-S) ridge-trough system outlined by mountain ranges.

Image 1: Image of Hekla Cavus taken from the LORRI instrument onboard the New Horizons.

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