Three massive eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Io

Image of Io taken by the North telescope of the Gemini Observatory that shows the volcanic activity in August 2013 (Image Katherine de Kleer/UC Berkeley/Gemini Observatory)
Image of Io taken by the North telescope of the Gemini Observatory that shows the volcanic activity in August 2013 (Image Katherine de Kleer/UC Berkeley/Gemini Observatory)

Io, the innermost of the Jupiter’s large satellites called the Galilean moons because they were discovered by Galileo Galilei, is the object with the greatest geological activity in the solar system with over 400 active volcanoes. Now new images of Io have been published from almost exactly a year ago, when there were two weeks of activity intense even by the standards of Io, with three massive eruptions.

Even active volcanoes alternate periods of calm that can be long to moments of intense activity with eruptions. On Io, scientists expect to see massive eruption every one or two years but what happened in August 2013 far exceeded their expectations.

According to Imke de Pater, professor of astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley and lead author of one of the articles about these eruptions, it’s possible that actually there are more of them than they think. Perhaps if we looked more often we could see many more of them.

Io is a very large satellite with its 3,630 km (about 2,300 miles) in diameter but its gravity is limited so the lava emitted by volcanoes rises very high and spreads for hundreds of miles in a short time. The massive eruptions of August 2013 were studied through observations of the North telescope of the Gemini Observatory, the Keck Observatory and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (NASA IRTF).

Katherine de Kleer of the University of California at Berkeley used the lucky detections of the eruption of August 29, 2013, the most massive of the three of that month, to show that its temperature is probably much higher than those that occur on Earth today. This could indicate that the composition of the magma is of a kind that on Earth occurred only during the period of the planet’s formation.

The eruptions on Io are extremely interesting because they’re similar to those that formed the surface of the inner planets of the solar system in the early stages of their history. Therefore it’s a kind of natural laboratory that helps us to understand how large eruptions occurred and their characteristics. The two weeks of hell in August 2013 on Io were spectacular and also very interesting from a scientific point of view.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *