Our Earth may not be the only body to have plate tectonics. Astronomers have found evidence of plate tectonics on Jupiter’s moon Europa. In the past, scientists have said that Jupiter’s icy moon might have the right ingredients to host alien life. In fact, NASA is looking for signs of past life on Europa. Findings of a new study have made it even more interesting.
Plate tectonics was believed to be unique to the Earth
According to a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, giant slabs of ice slide under and over each other within the moon’s ice shell, suggesting the presence of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics was believed to be unique to the Earth. If scientists’ findings are correct, the Jovian satellite is the only known solar system body besides our planet to have this system.
This discovery comes about a year after another group of scientists spotted plumes of water vapor erupting from the south polar region of Europa. With all these exciting discoveries, Europa should be the obvious choice if NASA thinks about future missions, said Simon Kattenhorn of the University of Idaho, who is also lead author of the study.
Kattenhorn and Louise Prokter of John Hopkins University studied images of Europa taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in early 2000s. They used photos to reconstruct the recent geological history of Europa’s high northern latitudes, an area about the size of Alabama, according to Space.com. There was clear visual evidence of changes over time. Many surface features mismatched from the architecture captured in earlier images.
Subduction most likely explanation of Europa’s disappearing puzzle piece
Kattenhorn said you could easily reconstruct the original image “simply by moving plates around.” Moreover, there was a gap in the reconstructed image as if a large piece had been displaced. Researchers said, in this case, the large chunk had moved down underneath a second surface plate. In total, about 12,000 square miles of the surface was missing.
Kattenhorn and Prokter said subduction is the most likely explanation of the disappearing surface area. Subduction is a phenomenon where one plate slides under another. They also provided many pieces of supporting evidence, such as “cryolavas” of ice water near the plate boundary.