Friday, January 06, 2017

Evidence of Cryovolcanism on Europa in the Argadnel Regio


Prockter et al


We combine Galileo Solid State Imager (SSI) and Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) data to investigate the composition of pull-apart bands in Europa's Argadnel Regio. Using spectral linear mixture modeling employing cryogenic laboratory reference spectra, we find that bands of intermediate age (“grey” bands) are compositionally distinct from bands that are stratigraphically younger (“dark” bands). The grey bands have higher abundances of larger ice grains and lower abundances of hydrated salts than the dark bands; both of these tendencies are statistically significant at the 1% level. The grey and dark bands have similar abundances of hexahydrite, a material which is relatively stable under irradiation; however, the derived abundances of frozen magnesium sulfate brine and of mirabilite, which are more susceptible to fragmentation by radiation, are significantly higher in the dark bands than in the grey bands. These results are consistent with a physical model in which the differences in composition and in ice grain sizes are linked to space weathering and radiolytic processing levels; the grey bands have presumably undergone higher levels of processing, due to being exposed on Europa's surface for a longer period of time. One prominent wedge-shaped band exhibits an anomalous albedo variation across its northern portion, appearing dark in its top third, and grey in its southernmost two-thirds. We find that the dark part of the band has a modeled composition that is in-family with other dark bands, while the grey portion has a modeled composition that is indistinguishable from other grey bands in the study area. Because these variations cannot easily be attributed to the band's formation mechanism (bands open sequentially along a central axis), we surmise that the northern part has been resurfaced, probably in response to the formation of a large topographic basin that cuts through the band. Faulting accompanying basin formation may provide conduits allowing transport to the surface of materials from Europa's interior. We hypothesize that the formation of the basin resulted in fresh cryovolcanic material being deposited across the northern portion of the band, effectively “resetting” its surface age. If, as has been suggested, the giant arcuate basins resulted from an episode of true polar wander, our study may help to more tightly constrain the age of that event within Europa's geologic column.

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