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Plate tectonics spotted on Europa

Shifting landscape on Jupiter’s frozen moon is first outside Earth

By
4:29pm, September 8, 2014
image of Jupiter’s frosty moon Europa

FROZEN WORLD  Drifting ice slabs periodically refresh the surface of Jupiter’s frosty moon Europa. The frigid world is the first spot outside Earth where scientists have discovered active plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics churns the icy exterior of Jupiter’s moon Europa, researchers report September 7 in Nature Geoscience. The finding marks the first evidence of plate tectonics elsewhere in the universe.

“Earth is not unique — we’ve found another body in the solar system with plate tectonics,” says planetary scientist Simon Kattenhorn of the University of Idaho in Moscow. “This tells us that this process can happen on more than just rocky planets like Earth.”

While previous observations have seen surface reshaping, such as volcanic activity, on other planetary bodies, such as Saturn's moon Titan (SN: 1/25/14, p. 14), Kattenhorn says Europa is the first found with a patchwork of drifting tectonic plates.

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