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Porosity and the ecology of icy satellitesThe case for a significant role for porosity in the structure and evolution of icy bodies in the Solar System has been difficult to establish. We present a relevant new data set and a series of structure models including a mechanical compression, not thermal creep, model for porosity that accounts satisfactorily for observed densities, moments of inertia, geologic activity, and sizes of tectonic features on icy satellites. Several types of observational data sets have been used to infer significant porosity, but until recently, alternative explanations have been preferred. Our first area of concern is the occurrence of cryovolcanism as a function of satellite radius; simple radiogenic heating models of icy satellites suggest minimum radii for melting and surface cryovolcanism to be 400 to 500 km, yet inferred melt deposits are seen on satellites half that size. One possible explanation is a deep, low conductivity regolith which lowers conductivity and raises internal temperatures, but other possibilities include tidal heating or crustal compositions of low conductivity. Our second area of concern is the occurrence and magnitude of tectonic strain; tectonic structures have been seen on icy satellites as small as Mimas and Proteus. The structures are almost exclusively extensional, with only a few possible compression Al features, and inferred global strains are on the order of 1 percent expansion. Expansions of this order in small bodies like Mimas and prevention of late compressional tectonics due to formation of ice mantles in larger bodies like Rhea are attained only in structure models including low-conductivity, and thus possibly high porosity, crusts. Thirdly, inferred moments of inertia less than 0.4 in Mimas and Tethys can be explained by high-porosity crusts, but also by differentiation of a high density core. Finally, the relatively low densities of smaller satellites like Mimas and Miranda relative to larger neighbors can be explained by deep porosity, but also by bulk compositional differences. Recent work has strengthened the case for significant porosity. Halley's nucleus was found to have a density near 0.6 g/cu cm, Janus and Epimethus were proposed to have densities near 0.7 g/cu cm, densities almost certainly due to high porosity. The irregular-spherical shape transition of icy satellites was quantitatively explained by low conductivity regoliths. A creative structure/thermal history model for Mimas simultaneously accounts quantitatively for Mimas' low density and moment of inertia by invoking initial high-porosity and subsequent compaction in the deep interior by thermal creep. The main problem with this promising model is that approximately 7 percent predicts a reduction in Mimas' radius, implying significant compressional failure and prevention of extensional tectonics, in contradiction to the observed extensional features and inferred 1 percent expansion in radius.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Legacy CDMS
Document Type
Conference Paper
Croft, Steven K.
(Arizona Univ. Tucson, AZ, United States)
Date Acquired
September 6, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1993
Publication Information
Publication: Lunar and Planetary Inst., Twenty-fourth Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Part 1: A-F
Subject Category
Accession Number
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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