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Large Binocular Telescope Spots Volcanic Event on Jupiter’s Moon Io

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Using the SHARK-VIS instrument on the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in Arizona, the United States, astronomers have captured the highest resolution optical images of Io ever obtained from a ground-based telescope. These new images allowed the astronomers to identify a major resurfacing event around Pele, one of Io’s most prominent volcanoes.

This image, taken by the SHARK-VIS camera on the Large Binocular Telescope on January 10, 2024, is the highest resolution image of Io ever obtained by an Earth-based telescope. The image combines three spectral bands — infrared, red and green — to highlight the reddish ring around the volcano Pele (below and to the right of the moon’s center) and the white ring around Pillan Patera, to the right of Pele. Image credit: INAF / Large Binocular Telescope Observatory / Georgia State University / SHARK-VIS@LBT / P.I.F. Pedichini / D. Hope / S. Jefferies / G. Li Causi.

Slightly larger than Earth’s moon, Io is the most volcanically active body in the Solar System.

This moon is the innermost of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, which in addition to Io include Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Locked in a gravitational tug of war among Jupiter, Europa and Ganymede, Io is constantly being squeezed, leading to frictional heat buildup in its interior — believed to be the cause for its sustained and widespread volcanic activity.

By monitoring the eruptions on Io’s surface, planetary scientists hope to gain insights into the heat-driven movement of material underneath the moon’s surface, its internal structure and ultimately, on the tidal heating mechanism responsible for Io’s intense volcanism.

Io’s volcanic activity was first discovered in 1979, when Linda Morabito, an engineer on NASA’s Voyager mission, spotted an eruption plume in one of the images taken by the spacecraft during its famous Grand Tour of the outer planets.

Since then, countless observations have been made that document Io’s restless nature, from both space and Earth-based telescopes.

“Io presents a unique opportunity to learn about the mighty eruptions that helped shape the surfaces of the Earth and the moon in their distant pasts,” said Dr. Al Conrad, an astronomer at the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory.

The new images taken by the SHARK-VIS on the Large Binocular Telescope are so rich in detail that they have allowed the team to identify a major resurfacing event in which the plume deposit around a prominent volcano known as Pele, located in Io’s southern hemisphere close to the equator, is being covered by eruption deposits from Pillan Patera, a neighboring volcano.

A similar eruption sequence was observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which explored the Jupiter system between 1995 and 2003.

“We interpret the changes as dark lava deposits and white sulfur dioxide deposits originating from an eruption at Pillan Patera, which partially cover Pele’s red, sulfur-rich plume deposit,” said Dr. Ashley Davies, a principal scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Before SHARK-VIS, such resurfacing events were impossible to observe from Earth.”

“The visible light images are really incredible,” said University of California, Berkeley’s Professor Imke de Pater.

“Pele seems to erupt continuously, sending plumes of volcanic gases some 300 km above Io’s surface — high enough to have been imaged by Voyager, Galileo and Hubble.”

“The gases in the plume, which emerge from a lava lake, freeze and settle on the surface as a prominent, broad, reddish, sulfur-rich ring.”

“Pillan Patera, on the other hand, seems to erupt episodically, leaving emplaced lava surrounded by a white ring of frozen sulfur dioxide.”

“The new images show the white deposits obscuring Pele’s reddish deposits, though likely for only a brief period.”

“Photos of Io taken by NASA’s Juno orbiter in April 2024 showed a nearly complete orange ring, with perhaps a hint of paler red where Pillan’s deposits had been.”

“It’s kind of a competition between the Pillan eruption and the Pele eruption, how much and how fast each deposits.”

“As soon as Pillan completely stops, then it will be covered up again by Pele’s red deposits.”

The findings will appear in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Al Conrad et al. 2024. LBT SHARK-VIS Observes a Major Resurfacing Event on Io. arXiv: 2405.19604

Source : Breaking Science News

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