This article consists of three sections. The first discusses how we determine satellite internal structures and what we know about them. The primary probes of internal structure are measurements of magnetic induction, gravity, and topography, as well as rotation state and orientation. Enceladus, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, and (perhaps) Pluto all have subsurface oceans; Callisto and Titan may be only incompletely differentiated. The second section describes dynamical processes that affect satellite interiors and surfaces: tidal and radioactive heating, flexure and relaxation, convection, cryovolcanism, true polar wander, non-synchronous rotation, orbital evolution, and impacts. The final section discusses how the satellites formed and evolved. Ancient tidal heating episodes and subsequent refreezing of a subsurface ocean are the likeliest explanation for the deformation observed at Ganymede, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Miranda, Ariel, and Titania. The high heat output of Enceladus is a consequence of Saturn’s highly dissipative interior, but the dissipation rate is strongly frequency-dependent and does not necessarily imply that Saturn’s moons are young. Major remaining questions include the origins of Titan’s atmosphere and high eccentricity, the regular density progression in the Galilean satellites, and the orbital evolution of the Saturnian and Uranian moons.
Probing the interiors of the gaseous giant planets in our solar system is not an easy task. It requires a set of accurate measurements combined with theoretical models that are used to infer the planetary composition and its depth dependence. The masses of Jupiter and Saturn are 317.83 and 95.16 Earth masses (M ⊕ ), respectively, and since a few decades, it has been known that they mostly consist of hydrogen and helium. The mass of heavy elements (all elements heavier than helium) is not well determined, nor are their distribution within the planets. While the heavy elements are not the dominating materials inside Jupiter and Saturn, they are the key to understanding the planets’ formation and evolutionary histories.
The planetary internal structure is inferred from theoretical models that fit the available observational constraints by using theoretical equations of states (EOSs) for hydrogen, helium, their mixtures, and heavier elements (typically rocks and/or ices). However, there is no unique solution for determining the planetary structure and the results depend on the used EOSs as well as the model assumptions imposed by the modeler.
Major model assumptions that can affect the derived internal structure include the number of layers, the heat transport mechanism within the planet (and its entropy), the nature of the core (compact vs. diluted), and the location (pressure) of separation between the two envelopes. Alternative structure models assume a less distinct division between the layers and /or a non-homogenous distribution of the heavy elements. The fact that the behavior of hydrogen at high pressures and temperatures is not perfectly known and that helium may separate from hydrogen at the deep interior add sources of uncertainty to structure models. In the 21st century, with accurate measurements of the gravitational fields of Jupiter and Saturn from the Juno and Cassini missions, structure models can be further constrained. At the same time, these measurements introduce new challenges for planetary modelers.
Ulrich R. Christensen
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
The Earth’s magnetic field has been known for centuries. Since the mid-20th century space missions carrying vector magnetometers showed that most, but not all, solar system planets have a global magnetic field of internal origin. They also revealed a surprising diversity in terms of field strength and morphology. While Jupiter’s field, like that of Earth, is dominated by a dipole moderately tilted relative to the planet’s spin axis, with multipole components being subordinate but not negligible, the fields of Uranus and Neptune are multipole-dominated, whereas those of Saturn und Mercury are highly symmetric relative to the rotation axis. Planetary magnetism originates from a dynamo process, which requires a fluid and electrically conducting region in the interior with sufficiently rapid and complex flow. The magnetic fields are of interest for three reasons: (1) They provide ground truth for dynamo theory, which is a fundamental and not completely solved physical problem; (2) the magnetic field controls how the planet interacts with its space environment, for example, the solar wind; and (3) the existence (or nonexistence) and the properties of the field allow us to draw inferences on the constitution, dynamics, and thermal evolution of the planet’s interior. For example, the lack of global magnetic fields at Mars and Venus can be explained if their iron cores, although liquid, are stably stratified.
Numerical simulations of the geodynamo—in which convective flow in a rapidly rotating spherical shell representing the outer liquid iron core of the Earth leads to induction of electric currents and the associated magnetic field—have successfully reproduced many observed properties of the geomagnetic field. They have also provided guidelines on the factors controlling magnetic field strength and, tentatively, their morphology. For numerical reasons the simulations must employ viscosities far greater than those inside planets, and it is debatable whether they truly capture the correct physics of planetary dynamo processes. Nonetheless, such models have been adapted to test concepts for explaining magnetic field properties of other planets. For example, they show that a stable stratified conducting layer above the dynamo region is a plausible cause for the strongly axisymmetric magnetic fields of Mercury or Saturn.
Paul K. Byrne
Mercury, like its inner Solar System planetary neighbors Venus, Mars, and the Moon, shows no evidence of having ever undergone plate tectonics. Nonetheless, the innermost planet boasts a long record of tectonic deformation. The most prominent manifestation of this history is a population of large scarps that occurs throughout the planet’s cratered terrains; some of these scarps rise kilometers above the surrounding landscape. Mercury’s smooth plains, the majority of which are volcanic and occupy over a quarter of the planet, abound with low-relief ridges. The scarps and ridges are underlain by thrust faults and point to a tectonic history dominated by crustal shortening. At least some of the shortening strain recorded by the ridges may reflect subsidence of the lavas in which they formed, but the widespread distribution of scarps attests to a planetwide process of global contraction, wherein Mercury experienced a reduction in volume as its interior cooled through time.
The onset of this phenomenon placed the lithosphere into a net state of horizontal compression, and accounts for why Mercury hosts only a few instances of extensional structures. These landforms, shallow troughs that form complex networks, occur almost wholly in volcanically flooded impact craters and basins and developed as those lavas cooled and thermally contracted. Tellingly, widespread volcanism on Mercury ended at around the same time the population of scarps began to form. Explosive volcanism endured beyond this point, but almost exclusively at sites of lithospheric weakness, where large faults penetrate deep into the interior. These observations are consistent with decades-old predictions that global contraction would shut off major volcanic activity, and illustrate how closely Mercury’s tectonic and volcanic histories are intertwined.
The tectonic character of Mercury is thus one of sustained crustal shortening with only localized extension, which started almost four billion years ago and extends into the geologically recent past. This character somewhat resembles that of the Moon, but differs substantially from those of Earth, Venus, or Mars. Mercury may represent how small rocky planets tectonically evolve and could provide a basis for understanding the geological properties of similarly small worlds in orbit around other stars.