Mass Movement and Landform Degradation on the Icy Galilean Satellites: Results of the Galileo Nominal Mission

Jeffrey M. Moore, Erik Asphaug, David Morrison, John R. Spencer, Clark R. Chapman, Beau Bierhaus, Robert J. Sullivan, Frank C. Chuang, James E. Klemaszewski, Ronald Greeley, Kelly C. Bender, Paul E. Geissler, Paul Helfenstein, Carl B. Pilcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


The Galileo mission has revealed remarkable evidence of mass movement and landform degradation on the icy Galilean satellites of Jupiter. Weakening of surface materials coupled with mass movement reduces the topographic relief of landforms by moving surface materials down-slope. Throughout the Galileo orbiter nominal mission we have studied all known forms of mass movement and landform degradation of the icy galilean satellites, of which Callisto, by far, displays the most degraded surface. Callisto exhibits discrete mass movements that are larger and apparently more common than seen elsewhere. Most degradation on Ganymede appears consistent with sliding or slumping, impact erosion, and regolith evolution. Sliding or slumping is also observed at very small (100 m) scale on Europa. Sputter ablation, while probably playing some role in the evolution of Ganymede's and Callisto's debris layers, appears to be less important than other processes. Sputter ablation might play a significant role on Europa only if that satellite's surface is significantly older than 108 years, far older than crater statistics indicate. Impact erosion and regolith formation on Europa are probably minimal, as implied by the low density of small craters there. Impact erosion and regolith formation may be important on the dark terrains of Ganymede, though some surfaces on this satellite may be modified by sublimation-degradation. While impact erosion and regolith formation are expected to operate with the same vigor on Callisto as on Ganymede, most of the areas examined at high resolution on Callisto have an appearance that implies that some additional process is at work, most likely sublimation-driven landform modification and mass wasting. The extent of surface degradation ascribed to sublimation on the outer two Galilean satellites implies that an ice more volatile than H2O is probably involved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-312
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Callisto
  • Europa
  • Ganymede
  • Satellite surfaces
  • Satellites of Jupiter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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