Unprecedented images reveal terrifying features of Jupiter’s ‘torture moon’

Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news on exciting discoveries, scientific advances and more.

A lava lake and a tall feature known as the “Steeple Mountains” on the alien surface of the moon have been discovered on the rugged terrain of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons and the most volcanically active world in our solar system.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which arrived to study Jupiter and its moons in 2016, flew within about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) of the lava world’s surface in December and February to capture the first detailed images. of Io’s northern latitude to capture.

More than 20 years have passed since an Io mission flew so close, and the spacecraft’s camera, called JunoCam, captured high-resolution images showing active volcanic plumes, mountain peaks and a glass-smooth lake of cooling lava.

“Io is littered with volcanoes, and we’ve caught several in action,” Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, said in a statement.

“We also got some first aid and other details on a 200 kilometer long (127 miles long) lava lake called Loki Patera. There’s amazing data that shows these crazy islands nestled in the middle of what could be a magma lake full of hot lava,” he said. “The specular reflection our instruments recorded on the lake suggests that parts of Io’s surface are as smooth as glass, reminiscent of volcanically formed obsidian glass on Earth.”

Bolton announced the findings on April 16 at the General Assembly of the European Geophysical Union in Vienna. The new data are painting a clearer portrait of Io, which has intrigued scientists for centuries.

“Other than Earth, the only place we see active magma volcanoes going on is in our solar system,” Bolton said.

Alien world animation

The team converted portions of Juno’s data into animation that brings into dramatic focus some of the surface features of the horror world, such as Loki Patera and Steeple Mountain.

Juno detected the mountain with the help of the sun shining on Io’s surface, creating dramatic shadows that revealed a very sharp peak.

“We used the scientific data to understand the shadows and measure the distance,” Bolton said. “Maybe it’s not quite right, but it’s what it would be like if you went there. This is called Steeple Mountain, because it is so steep there on the edge, it might be Io’s version of the Matterhorn.”

While the magma temperature on Io is thousands of degrees, the moon’s surface is likely to be minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 100 degrees Celsius), Bolton said.

“When the magma comes out and a volcano erupts, it freezes immediately and will probably make sulfur snow,” he said.

As an outdoor enthusiast, Bolton joked that Io’s Steeple Mountain should be one of the solar system’s top skiing and snowboarding destinations.

Meanwhile, Loki Patera is another spot with hot and cold extremes. While the lava lake itself is likely very hot, the top of the islands are likely very cold, and cold crust may also rim the lake’s edge, Bolton said.

The mission team used Juno’s Microwave Radiometer instrument to create maps of Io’s surface, showing how smooth it is.

The topography is missing contours because Io is so volcanically active that lava is constantly being resurfaced on the world, which carves impact craters from its surface, according to a new study by a separate research team published in the journal Science on the 18th of April.

The team also used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Telescope Array in Chile to observe gases in Io’s atmosphere. ​​​​​​The researchers found evidence of an abundance of enriched sulfur and chlorine, suggesting that Io has likely been volcanically active and releasing the gases for most or all of its history over the past 4 billion years.

Unraveling the mysteries of Io

Io, first discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610, is slightly larger than our moon, but it is unlike anywhere else in the solar system.

The rocky moon’s surface is covered with hundreds of volcanoes, drawing comparisons to the fictional volcanic planet Mustafar and its rivers of lava from the “Star Wars” movies.

Scientists have observed Io’s powerful volcanoes spewing lava fountains several miles high that are visible even with large telescopes on Earth, according to NASA.

The JunoCam instrument captured the first ever image of Io's south polar region during Juno's 60th Jupiter flyby on April 9.  - NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

The JunoCam instrument captured the first ever image of Io’s south polar region during Juno’s 60th flyby of Jupiter on April 9. – NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

The name of the moon comes from a Greek myth in which a mortal woman is turned into a cow during a marital dispute between the god Zeus and his wife Hera. The moniker is fitting, as Io is in a constant state of tug-of-war, pulled by Jupiter’s massive center of gravity, as well as its large moons Europa and Ganymede.

The three worlds are pulling so violently on Io that its surface bulges in and out by 330 feet (100 meters), like high and low tides on Earth – but it’s happening on solid land, rather than in an ocean. Bolton said he often refers to Io as “Jupiter’s tortured moon” because of the turbulent forces it regularly experiences.

Due to the forces exerted on Io by Jupiter, Europa and Ganymede the surface of Io is very hot, which is why the subsurface of the moon remains like liquid rock. Researchers believe that liquid rock is made of molten sulfur or silicate rock, and that volcanic eruptions help the moon relieve the gravitational pressure.

Io has been studied by multiple spacecraft, including the Pioneer and Voyager probes in the 1970s and the Galileo spacecraft in the 1990s. And now, Juno’s revelations are helping scientists understand the forces behind the moon’s volcanic activity like never before.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com

Leave a Reply

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