Icy moon of Jupiter, Ganymede, shows evidence of past strike-slip faulting

October 10, 2018, University of Hawaii at Manoa
The solar system's largest moon, Ganymede, is captured here alongside the planet Jupiter in a color picture taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 3, 2000. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A recently published study led by researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology reveals Ganymede, an icy moon of Jupiter, appears to have undergone complex periods of geologic activity, specifically strike-slip tectonism, as is seen in Earth's San Andreas fault. This is the first study to exhaustively consider the role of strike-slip tectonism in Ganymede's geologic history.

Plate tectonics is the process on Earth that has created many familiar large scale features—oceanic and continental crust, mountain ranges, mid- ridges, for example—and phenomena such as earthquakes.

"The heavily fractured surface of Ganymede displays many distinctive regions of inferred strike-slip faulting that may be important to the structural development of its surface," said Marissa E. Cameron, lead author of this study who completed the work as a doctoral candidate in SOEST's Department of Earth Sciences.

Both Ganymede and Europa, another of Jupiter's moons, are believed to be ocean worlds, that is they have a lying beneath an ice shell. Europa is thought to be the most likely place in the solar system to find life today, presumably in the ocean where it may be protected from extreme radiation by the .

Scientists know that Europa has tectonic processes similar to Earth's. However, while Ganymede was once tectonically active, it is no longer—which offers researchers a chance to look into Europa's future.

Icy moon of Jupiter, Ganymede, shows evidence of past strike-slip faulting
NASA's Voyager background imagery underlying Galileo high-resolution imagery of the Tiamat Sulcus region of Ganymede. Scale bar in lower right indicates distance. Credit: NASA and Cameron et al. (2018)

To better understand the role of strike-slip tectonism in shaping the complex icy surface of Ganymede, the research team perform extensive, methodical mapping of nine locations using imagery primarily collected by the Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter between 1995 and 2003.

"The unexpected finding was how commonplace strike-slip faulting was. Indicators of strike-slip were observed at all nine sites, representing various geographic locations on Ganymede," said Cameron. "Additionally, the similarities between the sites may be indicative of a past, larger scale process. Incorporating our observations with previous studies provides an improved representation of Ganymede's tectonic history and allows us to learn more about its neighbor, Europa."

Understanding more about the dynamic system of Jupiter's ocean worlds allows scientists to prepare as much as possible for future missions to explore these extraterrestrial bodies. Because of the increased interest in Europa and its potential ability to host life, a new flagship mission, Clipper, is scheduled to launch between 2022—2025 and make 45 close-by orbits of Europa.

This study was made available online in July 2018 ahead of final publication in print on November 15, 2018.

Explore further: Europa's ocean ascending

More information: Marissa E. Cameron et al, Morphological mapping of Ganymede: Investigating the role of strike-slip tectonics in the evolution of terrain types, Icarus (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2018.06.024

Related Stories

Europa's ocean ascending

July 9, 2018

This animation demonstrates how deformation in the icy surface of Europa could transport subsurface ocean water to the moon's surface.

Europa by the numbers

May 15, 2018

Galileo Galilei discovered Jupiter's moon Europa in 1610. More than four centuries later, astronomers are still making discoveries about its icy surface. With a diameter of almost 2,000 miles, an orbit equivalent to 3.5 Earth ...

Introducing JUICE—the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer

July 17, 2017

It may still be five years away from launch, and over a decade before our Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer reaches the gas giant and its icy moons, but preparations are well under way. This new artist's impression depicts the final ...

Image: Europa's blood-red scars

July 6, 2015

Jupiter's moon Europa is a bizarre place. There is something undeniably biological about this image, sent back by NASA's Galileo spacecraft – the moon is scarred by deep red gashes, resembling the vibrant red veins flowing ...

Recommended for you

Astronomers discover nine new variable stars

December 19, 2018

A team of astronomers from Chile has detected nine new variable stars in the globular cluster NGC 6652 and its background stream. Six of the newly found stars were classified as eclipsing binaries, one as an SX Phoenicis ...

NASA satellites spot young star in growth spurt

December 19, 2018

An adolescent star in the midst of a dramatic growth phase has been observed with the help of two NASA space telescopes. The youngster belongs to a class of stars that gain mass when matter swirling around the star falls ...

Mystery of coronae around supermassive black holes deepens

December 18, 2018

Researchers from RIKEN and JAXA have used observations from the ALMA radio observatory located in northern Chile and managed by an international consortium including the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) to ...

New bright high-redshift quasar discovered using VISTA

December 18, 2018

Using the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), astronomers have detected a new bright quasar at a redshift of about 6.8. The newly identified quasar, designated VHS J0411-0907, is the brightest object ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.