Mars, shmars: Johns Hopkins’s Applied Physics Laboratory wants to know about Jupiter. And the thing they’re finding are turning out to be quite interesting indeed.
The APL researchers and other astronomers have been puzzled by something that happens on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, for years. They had clear evidence that the moon’s icy crust was expanding, but they couldn’t explain how or why.
“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,” the APL’s Louise Prockter told the Hopkins Hub. “We finally think we’ve found the answer.”
That answer? Plate tectonics, just like on earth. In case you don’t remember your 9th grade earth science class, plate tectonics is the theory that the Earth’s crust isn’t one solid mass, but is instead made out of plates. When they shift and rearrange themselves, we get earthquakes–and, on a geological time scale, volcanos and mountains.
If Europa indeed has plate tectonics, that makes it appealingly Earth-like — despite its 20 mile-thick ice shell. “Not only does this discovery make it one of the most geologically interesting bodies in the solar system, it also implies two-way communication between the exterior and interior—a way to move material from the surface into the ocean—a process which has significant implications for Europa’s potential as a habitable world,” says Curt Niebur, Outer Planets program scientist at NASA.
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