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Official NASA Communication 99-138

Official NASA Communication 99-138

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Published by: NASAdocuments on Oct 06, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Douglas IsbellHeadquarters, Washington, DC Nov. 19, 1999(Phone: 202/358-1753)Jane PlattJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA(Phone: 818/354-0880)RELEASE: 99-138JUPITER'S MOON IO: A FLASHBACK TO EARTH'S VOLCANIC PASTJupiter's fiery moon Io is providing scientists with a windowon volcanic activity and colossal lava flows similar to those thatraged on Earth eons ago, thanks to new pictures and data gatheredby NASA's Galileo spacecraft.The sharp images of Io were taken on Oct. 11 during theclosest-ever spacecraft flyby of the moon, when Galileo dipped to just 380 miles (611 kilometers) above Io's surface. The new datareveal that Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system, iseven more active than previously suspected, with more than 100erupting volcanoes."The latest flyby has shown us gigantic lava flows and lavalakes, and towering, collapsing mountains," said Dr. Alfred McEwenof the University of Arizona, Tucson, a member of the Galileoimaging team. "Io makes Dante's Inferno seem like another day inparadise."Ancient rocks on Earth and other rocky planets show evidenceof immense volcanic eruptions. The last comparable lava eruptionon Earth occurred 15 million years ago, and itÕs been over 2billion years since lava as hot as that found on Io (reaching2,700 degrees Fahrenheit) flowed on Earth."No people were around to observe and document these pastevents," said Dr. Torrence Johnson, Galileo project scientist atNASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA. "Io is thenext best thing to traveling back in time to Earth's earlieryears. It gives us an opportunity to watch, in action, phenomenalong dead in the rest of the solar system."The new data focus on three of Io's most active volcanoes --Pele, Loki and Prometheus. The vent region of Pele has an intense
high-temperature hot spot that is remarkably steady, unlike lavaflows that erupt in pulses, spread out over large areas, and thencool over time. This leads scientists to hypothesize that theremust be an extremely active lava lake at Pele that constantlyexposes fresh lava. Galileo's camera snapped a close-up pictureshowing part of the volcano glowing in the dark. Hot lava, atmost a few minutes old, forms a thin, curving line more than sixmiles (10 kilometers) long and up to 150 feet (50 meters) wide.Scientists believe this line is glowing liquid lava exposed as thesolidifying crust breaks up along the caldera's walls. This issimilar to the behavior of active lava lakes in Hawaii, althoughPele's lava lake is a hundred times larger.Loki, the most powerful volcano in the solar system,consistently puts out more heat than all of Earth's activevolcanoes combined. Two of Galileo's instruments -- thephotopolarimeter radiometer and near-infrared mapping spectrometer-- have provided detailed temperature maps of Loki. "Unlike theactive lava lake at Pele, Loki has an enormous caldera that isrepeatedly flooded by lava, over an area larger than the state of Maryland," said Dr. Rosaly Lopes-Gautier of JPL, a member of thespectrometer team.Observations of Prometheus made early in the Galileo missionshowed a new lava flow and a plume erupting from a location about60 miles (100 kilometers) west of the area where the plume wasobserved in 1979 by NASA's Voyager spacecraft. New Galileo dataclarify where lava is erupting, advancing, and producing plumes.The most unexpected result is that the 50-mile (75 kilometer) tallplume erupts from under a lava flow, far from the main volcano.The plume is fed by vaporized sulfur dioxide-rich snow under thelava flow.Mountains on Io are much taller than Earth's largestmountains, towering up to 52,000 feet (16 kilometers) high.Paradoxically, they do not appear to be volcanoes. Scientists arenot sure how the mountains form, but new Galileo images provide afascinating picture of how they die. Concentric ridges coveringthe mountains and surrounding plateaus offer evidence that themountains generate huge landslides as they collapse under theforce of gravity. The ridges bear a striking resemblance to therugged terrain surrounding giant Olympus Mons on Mars.Scientists hope to learn more about dynamic Io when Galileoswoops down for an even closer look on Nov. 25 from an altitude of 

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