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Ganymede: First complete geologic map of an icy, outer-planet moon

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2 views of Ganymede survey/USGS

From ScienceDaily:

Since its discovery in January 1610, Ganymede has been the focus of repeated observation, first by Earth-based telescopes, and later by flyby missions and spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. These studies depict a complex icy world whose surface is characterized by the striking contrast between its two major terrain types: the dark, very old, highly cratered regions; and the lighter, somewhat younger (but still ancient) regions marked with an extensive array of grooves and ridges.

With a diameter of 3,280 miles (5,262 kilometers), Ganymede is larger than both planet Mercury and dwarf planet Pluto. It’s also the only satellite in the solar system known to have its own magnetosphere. The map details geologic features of the moon that formed and evolved over much of our solar system’s history.

Ganymede, according to NASA,

… has a complex geological history. Ganymede’s surface is a mixture of two types of terrain. Forty percent of the surface of Ganymede is covered by highly cratered dark regions, and the remaining sixty percent is covered by a light grooved terrain, which forms intricate patterns across Ganymede. The term “sulcus,” meaning a groove or burrow, is often used to describe the grooved features. This grooved terrain is probably formed by tensional faulting or the release of water from beneath the surface. Groove ridges as high as 700 m (2,000 feet) have been observed and the grooves run for thousands of kilometers across Ganymede’s surface. The grooves have relatively few craters and probably developed at the expense of the darker crust. The dark regions on Ganymede are old and rough, and the dark cratered terrain is believed to be the original crust of the satellite. Lighter regions are young and smooth (unlike Earth’s Moon). The largest area on Ganymede is called Galileo Regio.

Black and white image showing notes and simple sketches.
Galileo’s notes on newly spotted moons, including Ganymede, 1610

The large craters on Ganymede have almost no vertical relief and are quite flat. They lack central depressions common to craters often seen on the rocky surface of the Moon. This is probably due to slow and gradual adjustment to the soft icy surface. These large phantom craters are called palimpsests, a term originally applied to reused ancient writing materials on which older writing was still visible underneath newer writing. Palimpsests range from 50 to 400 km in diameter. Both bright and dark rays of ejecta exist around Ganymede’s craters — rays tend to be bright from craters in the grooved terrain and dark from the dark cratered terrain.

One enterprising astrobiologist devotes his time to studying the organisms of extreme environments on Earth, hoping for clues to the adaptations of any life that may exist. Could be as good as it gets, so far as Ganymede is concerned. No one talks of life there (unless we introduced extremophiles?).

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