Images Depict New Information About Io, Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon

Jupiter’s third-biggest moon Io is populated by over 400 active volcanoes, and it’s the most volcanically active object of our solar system, which is impressive.

New radio imagery gathered by an array of telescopes on Earth has recorded the direct effect of Io’s volcanic activity on its feeble atmosphere for the first time.

The Study

A study containing the data resulted from these images was accepted for future publications in the Planetary Science Journal.

The images taken by ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array of telescopes) returned a fresh perspective on the moon and its specific color palette consisting of yellow, orange, white, and red. The colors result from the sulfurous gases spewing from the moon’s many volcanoes that end up freezing after being ejected to the surface, where the temperatures are freezing.

Though the idea of intense volcanic activity might suggest a warm celestial body, Io’s surface temperature stays around 230 degrees Fahrenheit, which is extremely cold.

Io’s atmosphere is so insignificant that it’s approximately a billion times thinner than our planet’s atmosphere. Past observations and studies of Io showed that its atmosphere is mostly made up of sulfur dioxide gas.

Imke de Pater, the study’s author, said:

“However, it is not known which process drives the dynamics in Io’s atmosphere.”

“Is it volcanic activity, or gas that has sublimated (transitioned from solid to gaseous state) from the icy surface when Io is in sunlight,” de Patter asked.

Researchers used alma to shoot images of the moon as it moved into and out of the shadow of the planet. It orbits to learn more about the moon’s atmosphere.

Statia Luszcz-Cook, the study’s coauthor and observational astrophysicist at Columbia University, stated:

“When Io passes into Jupiter’s shadow and is out of direct sunlight, it is too cold for sulfur dioxide gas, and it condenses onto Io’s surface. During that time, we can only see volcanically-sourced sulfur dioxide. We can therefore see exactly how much of the atmosphere is impacted by volcanic activity.”

The quality of the ALMA imagery showed distinct plumes of sulfur dioxide and monoxide being ejected out of the volcanoes, is the source of 30% to 50% of the moon’s atmosphere. The scientists also figured out that potassium chloride gas is present on the moon, a common magma component, being ejected from the volcanoes. The researchers think that’s a sign that the magma reservoirs might be individual to groups of volcanoes.

Io is only marginally bigger than Earth’s moon, but it is incredibly different.

The Peculiar Planet

Additionally, its environment is incomparable to anything we have on Earth.

Io’s lava fountains can erupt to reach dozens of miles high.

Some of the moon’s volcanoes are so intense that their eruptions can be detected using large telescopes on Earth.

Lakes of molten silicate lava also blanket the surface.

It would be interesting to fly by the moon with such a peculiar landscape, but life on it is simply impossible for humans and our current technology.

Io is stuck between Jupiter’s massive gravity and the tug of orbits from other nearby moons like Ganymede and Europa. The intense tug heavily contributes to the activity on Io. Some of the volcanoes are massive. One of the most remarkable ones is Loki Patera, approximately 124 miles across. Picture that!

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