HUGE WAVES OF LAVA SPOT­TED ON JUPITER’S MOON

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

Any­one trav­el­ling to Jupiter’s moon Io might find them­selves in an en­vi­ron­ment re­sem­bling hell. Io is the most vol­cani­cally ac­tive body in the So­lar Sys­tem, with a land­scape pep­pered with hun­dreds of smok­ing vol­ca­noes and vast, lava-filled lakes.

Work­ing at the Large Binoc­u­lar Tele­scope Ob­ser­va­tory in south­east Ari­zona, re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia have ob­served huge waves flow­ing through the largest of these lakes, Loki Pat­era. They mea­sured the in­frared ra­di­a­tion em­a­nat­ing from Io in March 2015 when another of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, passed in front of it. As Europa’s sur­face is cov­ered in ice, it re­flects very lit­tle sun­light at in­frared wave­lengths. This gave the re­searchers a rare op­por­tu­nity to iso­late the heat em­a­nat­ing from vol­ca­noes on Io’s sur­face.

The in­frared data showed that Loki Pat­era’s sur­face tem­per­a­ture steadily in­creased from one end to the other, sug­gest­ing that the lava had over­turned in two waves that each swept from west to east at about a kilo­me­tre per day.

“If Loki Pat­era is a sea of lava, it en­com­passes an area more than a mil­lion times that of a typ­i­cal lava lake on Earth,” said re­searcher Kather­ine de Kleer. “In this sce­nario, por­tions of cool crust sink, ex­pos­ing the in­can­des­cent magma un­der­neath and caus­ing a bright­en­ing in the in­frared.”

Io’s not likely to be­come a space tourism des­ti­na­tion any time soon…

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