Everyday ice used to chill that glass of lemonade has helped researchers better understand the internal structure of icy moons in the far reaches of the solar system. A research team has demonstrated a new kind of "creep" or flow in a high-pressure form of ice by creating in a laboratory the conditions of pressure, temperature, stress, and grain size that mimic those in the deep interiors of large icy moons.
High-pressure phases of ice are major components of the giant icy moons of the outer solar system: Jupiters Ganymede and Callisto, Saturns Titan, and Neptunes Triton. Triton is roughly the size of our own moon; the other three giants are about 1.5 times larger in diameter. Accepted theory says that most of the icy moons condensed as "dirty snow balls" from the dust cloud around the sun (the solar nebula) about 4.5 billion years ago. The moons were warmed internally by this accretionary process and by radioactive decay of their rocky fraction.
The convective flow (much like the swirls in a hot cup of coffee) of ice in the interiors of the icy moons controlled their subsequent evolution and present-day structure. The weaker the ice, the more efficient the convection, and the cooler the interiors. Conversely, the stronger the ice, the warmer the interiors and the greater the possibility of something like a liquid internal ocean appearing.
Anne Stark | EurekAlert!
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