Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Huge lava fountains seen gushing from Jupiter moon

Voyager 1 acquired this image of Io on 4 March 1979 at 5:30 p.m. (PST) about 11 hours before closest approach to the Jupiter moon. The distance to Io was about 490,000 km (304,000 miles). An enormous volcanic eruption can be seen silhouetted against dark space over Io's bright limb. The brightness of the plume has been increased by the computer as it is normally extremely faint, whereas the relative color of the plume (greenish white) has been preserved. Credit: NASA

One of the most massive volcanic eruptions in the solar system has been spotted on Jupiter's moon Io – by a telescope perched on a volcano on Earth. On 15 August the Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii recorded fountains of lava gushing from fissures in the Rarog Patera region of Io. Heated by gravitational squeezing from Jupiter and its other moons, Io is covered in volcanoes that erupt almost continuously. This event is easily in the top 10 yet seen on Io by humans, says Ashley Davies of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"We try to look at Io at every opportunity, in the hope of seeing something like this," says Davies. "This time we got lucky." The lava fountains spouted molten rock hundreds of metres above Io's surface, erupting over an area totalling 31 square kilometres.

Plasma donut

The Galileo spacecraft, which toured the Jovian system from 1995 to 2003, was the last mission to get a close, near-constant view of the action on Io. But other monitoring efforts like the Keck programme have helped make it clear just how much violence Io is capable of.

The biggest eruption seen so far happened in 2001, when the Keck observatory saw a lava flow that is thought to have spread many hundreds of square kilometres across Io's surface. And in 2007 the New Horizons probe spotted huge plumes from a volcano called Tvashtar as it flew past Io on its way to Pluto.

A rocky body roughly the size of our moon, Io has relatively low gravity and almost no atmosphere, which is why its volcanic eruptions can spray much higher than those we see today on Earth. The blasts are also much more intense: an individual eruption can pump out 5 terawatts of energy. "It's an astonishing amount of energy," says Davies. Despite the differences, Io gives us a glimpse into the massive volcanism that dominated our home planet's early years, he says: "Io is this wonderful volcanic laboratory."

The recent eruption is especially timely, because it comes mere weeks before the launch of a Japanese spacecraft called Sprint-A. From its orbit around Earth, the probe will be able to see extreme ultraviolet light coming from the Io plasma torus – a donut-shaped ring of charged particles that surrounds Jupiter and that is fed by gases escaping Io.

If all goes to plan, Sprint-A may get a clear view of how an eruption affects the torus. We might also find out more about how Io influences Jupiter's monster auroras.

5 comments:

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  2. Andy Steven Boulogne In developing my theory of evolution of planets I encountered Io and she didnt fit the characteristics of a moon and I puzzled over it for months. The discovery is a remarkable one for me personally because I could not explain why Io did not have the pecularities of the other moons which based on my theory are planets which have gone through their full evolutionary stages. These planets which no longer have any fusion occuring in the center and no more magnetism generated by ferromagnetic nickel would be easily attracted back to the central star from the outer edges. Jupiter with its strong magnetism would hold them as moons. The closer view of Io which these esteemed gentlemen have been able to obtain has allowed me to solve the problem. The most likely explanation being that there was an acceleration in the consumption of fuel by the sun during its revolution. This acceleration resulted in a more rapid process of planetary formation than normal leading to a premature ejection. The presence of mercury reduced the ability of the sun to sufficiently magnetise the planet and keep it in orbit. It cannot be accepted by mercury because of the absence of mercury, venus , because of insufficient gravity,earth because of its satellite, mars because it already has two satellites. The next planet with an active gravitational force and magnetism is Jupiter. So Io is a newly formed planet but with the ability for rapid cooling. The volcanic activity is indicative of the internal fusion process in active mode. Thus Io is most likely to evolve in its next stage to a planet similar to Venus. The Uranium would decay to Thorium and the Isotope Thorium 228 would allow for the introduction of Oxygen into its atmosphere catalyzing an ozone layer and the formation of water and an earth like atmosphere. This is remarkable because this may be an option of a habitable planet after our Venus has reached its evolution to earth giving us perhaps two habitable planets at the same time.

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