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EUROPA PREDICTION

 Wal Thornhill wrote:

Back on 17 Jan, I posted an item about what I expected would be found on the closer images of Europa.

The earlier post ran, in part, as follows:

Since so many of the moons of the outer planets have similar markings, I can visualise a situation where they may have repeatedly gotten in the way of a large discharge between the gas giant planets and other bodies, like Venus or Mars. The Saturnian scenario has not yet dealt with the minor players in the celestial drama, but the moons of Jupiter and Saturn must have been swarming around between them. If Europa, for instance, had come between Venus and Saturn (for argument's sake) while Venus was the focus of plasma streams from Saturn, then Europa would have been entwined (and I use that word deliberately) in the interplanetary plasma "ropes". As I have said of the markings on Venus, when the plasma ropes are constrained to flow parallel to the surface of a planet (or moon), the result is a number of parallel marks or scars often running for great distances. The precise appearance of the scarring depends on many factors: the dielectric properties of the surface material, gas pressure at the surface, etc.

The argument is strengthened when it is remembered that even the tiny moons of Mars exhibit linear scarring and circular craters.

Europa seems to have suffered many episodes of electrical scarring judging by the multiple layers of crisscrossing linear features. This would be expected if its orbit brought it repeatedly into the danger zone between Saturn and Venus.

Electrical scarring seems to follow the law of fractals. So I would expect the new closer up shots of Europa to show similar scars down to the limit of resolution. That is, trenches consisting of circular craters, possibly being so close together as to appear continuous; levees on each side of the trenches; the parallel "racetracks" to be composed of many trenches, side by side.

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James G. Acker wrote:

Wal,

Did you see the images released on April 9?  The ones with the "ice floes" that have broken into pieces, but where you can still see the  pattern continued on the broken pieces?

My question to you is given the fact that the surface is clearly active, does that in any way change your interpretation of ANY of the features? I.e., can you grant that maybe more than one type of process is at work on Europa?

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Dave Talbott wrote:

Can't speak for Wal, but I spent about 45 minutes studying the incredible recent close-up pictures of Europa.  Clearly there  has been more recent activity on Europa than any astronomer had imagined prior to the Voyager probes. There are significant sections of the surface which have been re-arranged by the movement of ice.  These in particular  put a huge exclamation point the long, narrow channels, whose formation COULDN'T be due to ice movement or any geological process "deep within the planet," as the planetary geologists had claimed.

Where melting has occurred and sheets of ice have been randomly shifted about, you can a get a very dramatic picture as to how irregular the spacing is between the broken fragments under such conditions様iterally nothing like the thousands of narrow channels running side by side, some up to hundreds of kilometers謡hich geologists had tried to explain by fracturing and subtle movements of the ice.  And notice that in the fields of formerly melted ice, after the various fragments had been frozen into place again, additional channels were carved out, up, down, and over the previous fragments.  The consistent pattern of these channels suggests an instrument being dragged along the surface to plow out the long, parallel furrows.  Try as I may, I could not

see anything in the character of the channels to suggest internal geology.  That recent chaotic motions of planets and their moons might account for the catastrophic melting and re-freezing would seem self-evident.

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Wal Thornhill wrote:

Jim,

Dave has effectively answered the question for me while I was in Melbourne.  The surface was recently active with both electrical sculpting and melting.  The evidence for an episode of melting and re-freezing of the ice is graphically depicted in photo P-48526. It must be water ice for the creation of ice floes.  Satellite photographs of Antarctic sea ice breaking up does not show parallelism, constancy of width, levee banks, the dark-light-dark appearance, or anything to match the scale of the "cracks" on Europa.  Certainly nothing to match the appearance of "freeways".  The larger "cracks" range up to 70km in width and stretch as far as 3,000 km in straight or curved paths across Europa's surface. When seen in close-up, the "cracks" look like furrows.  The best conventional explanation for this appearance is some form of gas venting through the cracks from below. But the material vented had to be "dirty" to provide the colouration of the levees. It had to be remarkably consistent over great distances.  Then clean ice had to fill the bottom of the "crack" to give the bright centre line.  (I would not expect to see any dark central lines of dirty ice beneath the furrows when seen in cross section where the ice floes have broken away. The photos are not yet sufficiently detailed to test this suggestion).

The lightning discharge hypothesis is the only one to explain all of the observed linear features from the smallest to the largest scale. The central line is bright because that is where the lightning vapourized the ice to blast it outwards and form the levees. We are looking at a clean bed of ice at the bottom of the channel. The colouration of the levees may come from shock heating and rapid cooling of the ice and any resulting chemical changes in dissolved or suspended material. (The same mechanism that formed the green glass beads found near rilles on the Moon).  The larger furrows stand out as much more deeply coloured than their surroundings. So it may be that the electric discharges that created them were sufficiently intense to cause nucleosynthesis in the form of the conversion of oxygen atoms (from the water) to sulphur. Elemental sulphur takes many colours ranging from yellow through red to black (look at Io's surface) and could account for the reddish colouration of the ejected material. Alternatively, and I think less likely, the coloured material may be exogenous and implanted by the discharge itself (as described by Ralph Juergens).

Of course, when we finish discussing Europa, we have the linear features on Ganymede and Callisto to explain溶ot to mention the moons of Saturn, Neptune and Uranus.

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Wal Thornhill responded to further comments by James Acker:

[WT]    The surface *was* recently active with both electrical sculpting and melting.  The evidence for an episode of melting and re-freezing of the ice is graphically depicted in photo P-48526. It must be water ice for the creation of ice floes.

[JA]    Well, that was expected.   Good that we agree.

[WT]    Satellite photographs of Antarctic sea ice breaking up does not show parallelism, constancy of width, levee banks, the dark-light-dark appearance, or anything to match the scale of the "cracks" on Europa.

[JA]     I don't think we can compare the sea ice of Antarctica or the Arctic to Europa.   The scale of heating is dissimilar.   Europa is postulated to have the same kind of heat source as Io, though at a lesser intensity.   Because it's internal, it will have a different surface manifestation.  Believe it or not, "Aviation and Technology Week" (or something similar) had an article on Europa.  It must be a weekly, because it was the same pictures I saw on the Web.  My officemate gets it. The scientists are already describing what they are seeing in the long ridge systems as cracking, upwelling, and refreezing.  I'm not surprised by that.  All I can say is that I think the lava lake analogy is apt.

[WT]    I used the Antarctic sea ice description because it's the one often used as an analogue of the Europa markings and in a book I saw in Melbourne, it had the photographs side by side for comparison. There are close-ups of Europa which show the same features and which I accept as fractured ice. P47170 is an example with a circular pattern and wedge shaped cracks evident.  I still think that the number of special conditions required to satisfy the appearance, range of sizes and sheer number of linear features argue against the standard mechanism.

Certainly nothing to match the appearance of "freeways".  The larger "cracks" range up to 70km in width and stretch as far as 3,000 km in straight or curved paths across Europa's surface.  When seen in close-up, the "cracks" look like furrows.  The best conventional explanation for this appearance is some form of gas venting through the cracks from below.  But the material vented had to be "dirty" to provide the coloration of the levees. It had to be remarkably consistent over great distances.  Then clean ice had to fill the bottom of the "crack" to give the bright centre line.

[JA]      Looking very closely, I'm not sure of that.  We may be only seeing light and shadow.  I say that based on the appearance of the close-up and the cracks on the floes.

[WT]    To get some idea of the coloration you need to look at the global colour images where the contrast between the reddish "cracks" and the white surface is quite marked.

[JA]    Gotta delete the rest, sorry.  I know you mentioned Ganymede and Callisto.  Ganymede is supposed to be ice and rock, and Callisto doesn't have a lot of lines, just a lot of craters.  At least I think they're craters.

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[WT]

In the article "Strange Forces Alter Europa's Terrain" in Aviation Week & Space Technology (Feb 3, 1997) and referred to by Jim Acker, three forces are seen as shaping the moon's surface. They are: lateral spreading of surface plates; water vulcanism; and a mysterious local obliteration process.  I quote from the NASA description:

"This is the highest resolution picture ever taken of the Jupiter moon, Europa. The area shown is about 5.9 by 9.9 miles (9.6 by 16 kilometers) and the smallest visible feature is about the size of a football field. In this view, the ice-rich surface has been broken into a complex pattern by cross-cutting ridges and grooves resulting from tectonic processes. Sinuous rille-like features and knobby terrain could result from surface modifications of unknown origins. Small craters of possible impact origin range in size from less than 330 feet (100 meters) to about 1300 feet (400 meters) across are visible."

Notice the use of the words "sinuous rille-like features".

The accompanying image

[http://www.jpl.nasa.gov:80/galileo/europa/p48227.html]

shows detail down to a resolution of 230ft. It looks as if the resurfacing has been caused by fracturing of the ice, floating apart and re-freezing of the exposed water.  The re-frozen surface is more lightly scarred by furrows (sinuous rilles?) which suggests that a short-lived thermal and/or torsional event occurred during the scarring process. The edges of the cracks are sharp. The distinction between cracking and furrowing is easy to see and to term the furrows evidence of water vulcanism is, in my opinion, stretching the imagination past the elastic limit. The furrows are no respecters of existing topography and the levees are so consistent in appearance over long distances that it begs explanation by the water vulcanologists as to how this might be achieved by eruption of a fluid.

A rough calculation from the dimensions of one of the furrows shows that the levees are formed solely from the material excavated from the channel. It does not require additional matter from beneath the crust nor does it require subsidence of the fluid to leave the central channel. This suits the electrical discharge formation process, as does the uniformity over long distances and the disregard for existing surface topography. The arcuate nature of the longest furrows on Europa may also be consistent with the influence of the self-induced magnetic field of a plasma discharge on the motion of the discharge.

Many of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn exhibit the same kind of linear (often parallel) scarring, even though their sizes and composition vary markedly. Some moons featuring such scars are so small that to talk of volcanic features is nonsense. As I remarked in an earlier posting on the subject, I propose that many of the moons of the gas giants were probably unfortunate enough to become secondary electrodes in an interplanetary discharge between planets. In such an event, since a moon is a better conductor than surrounding space, plasma ropes will twine around the moon, ripping charge carriers (electrons and ions) from the surface and forming circular craters, rayed craters, and furrows (or rilles) in the manner described by Ralph Juergens for the Moon. The precise nature of the scarring (rilles, circular craters, rays, etc.) will be determined largely by the characteristics of each moon's surface, but the hallmarks of electrical machining will be evident.

When it comes to the proposed plasma discharge experiment in an evacuated chamber with magnetised spheres, it would be worthwhile to include an extra sphere, representing a moon, between the cathode and anode, with an electrical connection so that its voltage may be varied. In this way it may be possible to photograph the kind of effects to be expected on an object like Europa.

Wal Thornhill

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