The "Mitten" (provisionally named Murias Chaos by the International Astronomical Union) is a region of elevated chaos-like terrain in the leading hemisphere of Europa. Its origin had been explained under the currently debated theories of melting through a thin lithosphere or convection within a thick one. Galileo observations reveal several characteristics that suggest that the Mitten is distinct from typical chaos terrain and point to a different formational process. Photoclinometric elevation estimates suggest that the Mitten is slightly elevated with respect to the surrounding terrain; geologic relations indicate that it must have raised significantly from the plains in its past, resembling disrupted domes on Europa's trailing hemisphere. Moreover, the Mitten material appears to have extruded onto the plains and flowed for tens of kilometers. The area subsequently subsided as a result of isostatic adjustment, viscous relaxation, and/or plains loading. Using plate flexure models, we estimated the elastic lithosphere in the area to be several kilometers thick. We propose that the Mitten originated by the ascent and extrusion of a large thermal diapir. Thermal-mechanical modeling shows that a Mitten-sized plume would remain sufficiently warm and buoyant to pierce through the crust and flow unconfined on the surface. Such a diapir probably had an initial radius between 5 and 8 km and an initial depth of 20-40 km, consistent with a thick-lithosphere model. In this scenario the Mitten appears to represent the surface expression of the rare ascent of a large diapir, in contrast to lenticulae and chaos terrain, which may form by isolated and clustered small diapirs, respectively.
Additional publication details
Geology and origin of Europa's "Mitten" feature (Murias Chaos)