HUGE WAVES OF LAVA SPOTTED ON JUPITER’S MOON
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…