Two giant waves of lava have been detected by the scientists on Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon lo, which is solar system’s most volcanically active celestial body. The huge waves were seen sweeping across the largest lava lake on lo.
Researchers at University of California (UC) Berkeley took advantage of a rare orbital alignment between Io and Europa, the two of Jupiter’s moons and obtained an exceptionally detailed map of the largest lava lake on lo.
Europa passed in front of lo on March 8, 2015. In the process, the light was gradually blocked out from the volcanic moon.
Europa reflects very little sunlight at infrared wavelengths because its surface is covered with water ice. This helped researchers to accurately isolate the heat originating from volcanoes on Io’s surface.
The surface temperature of lo’s giant molten lake steadily raised from one end to other, the infrared data revealed. This suggested that the lava had overturned in two waves that each swept from west to east at about a kilometre per day.
A popular explanation for the periodic brightening and dimming of the hot spot, called Loki Patera after the Norse god is the overturning lava.
Loki Patera, the most active volcanic site on Io, is about 200 kilometres across. The surface area of the hot region of Loki Patera is 21,500 square kilometres.
“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 Katherine de Kleer, a graduate student at UC Berkeley.
“In this scenario, portions of cool crust sink, exposing the incandescent magma underneath and causing a brightening in the infrared,” said de Kleer.
“This is the first useful map of the entire patera. It shows not one but two resurfacing waves sweeping around the patera. This is much more complex than what was previously thought,” said Ashley Davies, of the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US.
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“This is a step forward in trying to understand volcanism on Io, which we have been observing for more than 15 years, and in particular the volcanic activity at Loki Patera,” said Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy.
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The twin 8.4-metre mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory in the mountains Arizona captured the images that were linked together as an interferometer using advanced adaptive optics to remove atmospheric blurring.