Callisto and Ganymede
From 1996 to 1999, the Galileo spacecraft passed through the Jovian system, providing much information about Jupiter's satellites. Callisto, the outermost of Jupiter's four largest satellites, orbits the planet in seventeen days at a distance from Jupiter of two million kilometers. Like our own Moon, Callisto rotates in the same period as it revolves, so it always keeps the same face toward Jupiter. Its noontime surface temperature is only about ?140ºC, so water ice is stable on its surface year-round. Callisto has a diameter of 4,820 kilometers, almost the same as that of Mercury. Its mass is only one-third as great, which means its density must be only one-third as great as well. This tells us that Callisto has far less of the rocky metallic materials found in the inner planets and must instead be an icy body through much of its interior.
Callisto has not fully differentiated, meaning separated into layers of different density materials. Astronomers can tell that it lacks a dense core from the details of its gravitational pull on the Galileo spacecraft during several very close flybys. This fact surprised scientists, who expected that all the big icy moons would be differentiated. It is much easier for an icy body to differentiate than for a rocky one, since the melting temperature of ice is so low. Only a little heating will soften the ice and get the process started, allowing the rock and metal to sink to the center and the slushy ice to float to the surface. Yet Callisto seems to have frozen solid before the process of differentiation was complete.
Like our Moon's highlands, the surface of Callisto is covered with impact craters. The survival of these craters tells us that an icy object can form and retain impact craters in its surface. In thinking of ice so far from the Sun, it is important not to judge its behavior from that of the much warmer ice we know on Earth; at the temperatures of the outer solar system, ice on the surface is nearly as hard as rock, and behaves similarly. Ice on Callisto does not deform or flow like ice in glaciers on Earth. Callisto is unique among the planet-sized objects of the solar system in its absence of interior forces to drive geological evolution. The satellite was born dead and has remained geologically dead for more than four billion years.
Ganymede, another of Jupiter's satellites and the largest in our solar system, is also cratered, but less so than Callisto. About one-quarter of its surface seems to be as old and heavily cratered; the rest formed more recently, as we can tell by the sparse covering of impact craters as well as the relative freshness of the craters. Ganymede is a differentiated world, like the terrestrial planets. Measurements of its gravity field tell us that the rock and metal sank to form a core about the size of our Moon, with a mantle and crust of ice floating above it. In addition, the Galileo spacecraft discovered that Ganymede has a magnetic field, the signature of a partially molten interior. Ganymede is not a dead world, but rather a place of continuing geological activity powered by an internal heat source. Much of its surface may be as young as half a billion years.
The younger terrain is the result of tectonic and volcanic forces. Some features formed when the crust cracked, flooding many of the craters with water from the interior. Extensive mountain ranges were formed from compression of the crust, forming long ridges with parallel valleys spaced one to two kilometers apart. In some places older impact craters were split and pulled apart. There are even indications of large-scale crustal movements that are similar to the plate tectonics of Earth.
Why is Ganymede different from Callisto? Possibly the small difference in size and internal heating between the two led to this divergence in their evolution. But more likely the gravity of Jupiter is to blame for Ganymede's continuing geological activity. Ganymede is close enough to Jupiter that tidal forces from the giant planet may have episodically heated its interior and triggered major convulsions on its crust.