Jupiter Moon Io Unleashes Cataclysmic Eruptions
Infrared image taken by Gemini North telescope, courtesy of Katherine de Kleer, UC Berkeley.
The Aug. 29, 2013, outburst on Io was among the largest ever observed on the most volcanically active body in the solar system.
Credits: NASA/Science Channel
On August 4, the much-anticipated "Wonders of the Solar System" documentary will premier on the Science Channel.
Presenter and physicist Prof. Brian Cox will show you the hidden mysteries of our interplanetary neighborhood, as well as breathtaking sights of the planets, moons and the sun. Cox will also examine some of Earth's extreme environments to see how life has adapted, perhaps helping us understand whether life can exist elsewhere in our solar system. To provide a taster of what you can expect from "Wonders," Discovery News has gathered some facts, figures and the best images of our solar system to assemble a special Wide Angle supporting this groundbreaking documentary. Let's begin, in the orbit of the solar system's biggest planet, Jupiter...
Moons of Jupiter: Io
Welcome to Jupiter, the solar system's biggest planet and host to more than 63 peculiar moons -- a steady contender for moons compared to satellite-strewn Saturn. From sulfur-spewing furnaces to ice-encrusted oceans, these Jovian satellites are anything but normal! Browse through 10 of our favorites here. If you're looking for a fiery, volcanic spectacle, head to Io, the innermost of Jupiter's "big four" moons. Jupiter's gravity pulls at Io so strongly that the land has tides of up to 300 feet (100 meters). This gravitational tug-of-war produces scorching heat and raises more volcanic activity here than anywhere else in the solar system. Io has a sulfurous surface, and its volcanoes spew silicate magma, causing the hellish moon's surface look like a pizza.
Moons of Jupiter: Metis
While it doesn't look like much in this image (the highest-resolution available!), Metis is Jupiter's closest companion -- for now. It's orbiting the gas giant at a distance of just 75,500 miles (128,000 kilometers) and moving faster than Jupiter spins. Metis is so close to Jupiter's surface, in fact, that it will gradually succumb to the planet's gravity and plunge into its churning clouds. This same principle applies to man-made satellites orbiting the Earth; if their orbit is too low, they'll eventually fall.
Moons of Jupiter: Adrastea
Like Metis, Adrastea is on its way down, eventually: Its orbit is just 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) outside of its fellow doomed moon. The two bodies probably provide lots of the material making up Jupiter's main ring, shown in this Galileo spacecraft image. Adrastea is also tiny at a wee 12 miles (20 kilometers) in diameter.
Moons of Jupiter: Ganymede
If Ganymede orbited the sun instead of Jupiter, it would be a planet of its own -- it's even bigger than Mercury. Its interior is made from layers surrounding a rocky core, and its surface is covered in water ice. Although Ganymede doesn't have much of an atmosphere, it does have some ozone gas near its surface. This gas comes from charged particles in Jupiter's magnetic field smacking into the moon's icy crust.
Credit: Courtesy of Damien Perrotin
Moons of Jupiter: Themisto
We're not entirely sure what Themisto looks like, but scientists know it one odd little satellite. Unlike most other moons, Themisto is oblong and doesn't fit into the traditional groups of Jovian moons. Because this body is so small -- just 5 miles (8 kilometers) in diameter -- astronomers in 2000 confused it for a new object when it was originally found in 1975. Shown here is a speculative illustration of how the irregular moon might be shaped.
Moons of Jupiter: Callisto
Along with Io, Ganymede, and Europa (which is yet to come in this slide show), Callisto is one of the four Galilean satellites. These are the moons of Jupiter that Galileo discovered while looking through a telescope in 1610. Callisto is about the same size as Mercury, and it's a heavily cratered moon that has almost no geological activity. Callisto's surface may also be one of the oldest landscapes in the solar system, including Earth's moon -- about 4 billion years old.
Moons of Jupiter: Thebe
Along with Metis and Adrastea, Thebe was discovered by scientists studying images from the Voyager spacecraft in 1979 and 1980. It's closer to Jupiter than Io is, but it's not so close that it's in danger of losing its altitude. The material in Jupiter's Gossamer ring probably comes from Thebe and another moon, Amalthea.
Credit: NASA/Michael Carroll
Moons of Jupiter: Amalthea
Speaking of Amalthea, shown here is an artist's rendition of the mysterious moon (inset: our best real view so far). Astronomers don't know much about it, but they do know it's the reddest body in the solar system. Unlike the other three moons that lie within Io's orbit -- Thebe, Metis and Adrastea -- Amalthea wasn't discovered by the Voyager science team. Edward Emerson Barnard discovered Amalthea it in 1892, and it had been almost 300 years since anyone had discovered a new moon orbiting Jupiter. Before that, the last person to discover a Jovian moon was Galileo.
Credit: University of Hawaii/Scott Sheppard/D
Moons of Jupiter: S/2000 J11
This not-to-be-named moon marks an interesting dividing line in the wealth of satellites orbiting Jupiter. S/2000 J11, named after it was found in 2000, moves in the same direction that Jupiter spins -- as do all the moons that are closer to the planet. Almost every distant moon, however, orbits in the opposite (retrograde) direction, as this diagram shows. The only known exception is Carpo, sometimes known as Karpo, which was discovered in 2003.
Moons of Jupiter: Europa
About two-thirds of the Earth is covered in water, but Europa has about twice as much water as our home planet. Europa's might surface is covered in ice, but astronomers are almost convinced there is an ocean of liquid water underneath -- an environment shielded from Jupiter's intense radiation that might be hospitable to life. A cold, salty planet might not seem like a good place to live, but there are species on Earth that thrive in just those conditions.
Slideshow originally posted Feb. 2009.
One of Jupiter’s moons has unleashed a series of huge volcanic eruptions over a hellish 2 week period that were so bright they could be studied in detail by ground based observatories.
Io has earned its right to be known as Jupiter’s volcano moon — its dramatic surface is pockmarked with huge calderas and huge eruptions have been observed, sending volcanic debris into space.
But an unprecedented series of eruptions that occurred over 14 days last August has taken scientists by surprise, revealing that this hellish little world may erupt more often than thought.
“We typically expect one huge outburst every one or two years, and they’re usually not this bright,” said Imke de Pater, of the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of one of two papers accepted for publication in the journal Icarus describing last year’s eruptions. “Here we had three extremely bright outbursts, which suggest that if we looked more frequently we might see many more of them on Io.”
Mosaic of Voyager 1 images covering Io's south polar region. The view includes two of Io's ten highest peaks, the Euboea Montes at upper extreme left and Haemus Mons at bottom.NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS
Io is Jupiter’s innermost Galilean moon that is 2,300 miles wide, approximately the same size as our moon, and is the only place in the solar system (except Earth) where active volcanoes have been observed. The volcanic activity is driven by powerful tidal interactions with the gas giant that squeeze Io’s interior, heating it up. Like Earth’s volcanoes, molten rock (magma) is then forced through Io’s crust intermittently erupting as volcanoes.
Many Io eruptions are surprisingly powerful and, because of the moon’s low gravity, can blast debris high into space, forming a huge umbrella.
“These new events are in a relatively rare class of eruptions on Io because of their size and astonishingly high thermal emission,” said co-investigator and volcanologist Ashley Davies, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech, in Pasadena, Calif. “The amount of energy being emitted by these eruptions implies lava fountains gushing out of fissures at a very large volume per second, forming lava flows that quickly spread over the surface of Io.”
The first of the series of massive eruptions were detected by the near-infrared camera (NIRC2) attached to the Keck II telescope. Keck II is one of a pair of adaptive optics-powered telescopes at the Keck Observatory located atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea summit.
While recording the eruptions that occurred in the moon’s southern hemisphere on Aug. 15, 2013, the researchers saw the brightest emanate from a caldera called Rarog Patera, which produced a 50 square-mile, 30 foot-thick lava flow — enough lava to cover Manhattan Island. Another eruption that was generated by the caldera Heno Patera produced a flow covering 120 square miles. Both eruptions generated “curtains of fire” as lava blasted from long fissures in Io’s crust.
Then on Aug. 29, one of the brightest eruptions ever witnessed on Io was detected by the Gemini North telescope and the Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF), also located atop Mauna Kea. This event was hotter than any volcanic eruption seen on Earth today and is more akin to the eruptions that ravaged our planet in its early evolution.
“We are using Io as a volcanic laboratory, where we can look back into the past of the terrestrial planets to get a better understanding of how these large eruptions took place, and how fast and how long they lasted,” added Davies.
Images of Io obtained at different infrared wavelengths (in microns, μm, or millionths of a meter) with the W. M. Keck Observatory’s 10-meter Keck II telescope on Aug. 15, 2013 (a-c) and the Gemini North telescope on Aug. 29, 2013 (d). The bar on the right of each image indicates the intensity of the infrared emission. Note that emissions from the large volcanic outbursts on Aug. 15 at Rarog and Heno Paterae have substantially faded by Aug. 29. A second bright spot is visible to the north of the Rarog and Heno eruptions in c and to the west of the outburst in d. This hot spot was identified as Loki Patera, a lava lake that appeared to be particularly active at the same time. Image by Imke de Pater and Katherine de Kleer, UC Berkeley.