Images obtained by the Voyager spacecraft revealed dark, wedge-shaped bands on Europa that were interpreted as evidence that surface plates, 50- 100 km across, moved and rotated relative to each other. This implied that they may be mechanically decoupled from the interior by a layer of warm ice or liquid water. Here we report similar features seen in higher resolution images (420 metres per pixel) obtained by the Galileo spacecraft that reveal new details of wedge-band formation. In particular, the interior of one dark band shows bilateral symmetry of parallel lineaments and pit complexes which indicates that plate separation occurred in discrete episodes from a central axis. The images also show that this style of tectonic activity involved plates < 10 km across. Although this tectonic style superficially resembles aspects of similar activity on Earth, such as sea-floor spreading and the formation of ice leads in polar seas, there are significant differences in the underlying physical mechanisms: the wedge-shaped bands on Europa most probably formed when lower material (ice or water) rose to fill the fractures that widened in response to regional surface stresses.
Additional publication details
Episodic plate separation and fracture infill on the surface of Europa