Moonquakes could smooth the surfaces of the moons orbiting the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, new research has revealed. The findings could solve a long-standing mystery about why many of these icy moons have such smooth terrain.
Scientists have known for some time that some of the moons that orbit gas giants Jupiter And Saturnlargest and second largest planet in the solar system respectively, are geologically active. It is the result of the massive gravitational influence of these planets stretching and compressing the moons orbiting them, triggering moonquakes that crack the moon’s crusts and icy surfaces.
This new research implies that these moonquakes can also trigger landslides that help create smooth terrains. The connection between moonquakes and landslides indicates how the surfaces of these moons evolve.
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Steep ridges surrounded by relatively smooth areas are a common sight in landscapes of Jovian moons Europe And Ganymedeas well as Saturn’s moon Enceladus. While scientists have speculated that these features are the work of liquids flowing from icy volcanoes, how the process works at low temperatures on these frigid moons that are inhospitable to liquids has been a puzzle. .
The explanation advanced in this new research, however, does not require the presence of liquid on the surface of these icy moons.
The team came to a startling conclusion when they began measuring the dimensions of these ridges, believed to be steep slopes caused by the breaking of the surface along a fault line with one side falling into what the scientists call “tectonic fault scarps”. They then applied the measurements to seismic models that allowed them to estimate the power of moonquakes in the history of these moons.
This revealed that some of these seismic events would have been strong enough to kick up debris which then rolls down, spreading out as it does and smoothing out the landscape of the moons.
“We found that the shaking surface of the moonquakes would be enough to cause surface materials to fall into the landslides. We estimated the size of the moonquakes and the magnitude of the landslides,” Mackenzie said. , lead author of the research and a graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Mills, said in a statement (opens in a new tab). “It helps us understand how landslides could shape the moon’s surfaces over time.”
Research conducted by Mills during a series of summer internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California will receive a major boost when NASA’s Europa Clipper mission heads to Europa in 2024.
THE European Clipper The mission will orbit Jupiter and make around 50 flybys of Europa in the process, collecting images and scientific data with its payload of nine scientific instruments. It should also help planetary scientists determine if there is a deep liquid ocean beneath the icy shell of the Jovian moon and if it has the conditions necessary to support life.
“It was surprising to learn more about the power of moonquakes and how simple it could be for them to move debris down,” said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist and co- author of the research, in the press release.
The team said it was particularly surprising to find the strength of tectonic activity and earthquakes on Enceladus, as this moon of Saturn is less than 3% of the surface of Europa and about 1/650 of that of Enceladus. Earth.
“Due to this moon’s low gravity, earthquakes on tiny Enceladus could be large enough to hurl icy debris straight off the surface and into space like a shaking wet dog,” Pappalardo said. “We hope to gain a better understanding of the geological processes that have shaped icy moons over time and to what extent their surfaces may still be active today.”
The team’s research is published in the Ilog Icarus (opens in a new tab).
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