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I’os Multimedia: Jupiter & Io


Io’s Plumes

Aug 04, 2004

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Jupiter’s inner Galilean moon, Io, spews plumes of material into space from several hot spots. They have been called volcanoes. But are they? The hot spots are unexpectedly hot. Probe sensors overloaded after registering temperatures higher than any lava on Earth. And some of the hot spots move over the surface.

Plume velocities are unexpectedly high and uniform. The plumes are tall, have an umbrella shape, and deposit material in a ring around the source. They also have a filamentary structure. Io orbits inside a donut-shaped cloud of charged particles that come from the material in the plumes, and a tube of electrical current connects Io with Jupiter’s auroras.

These discrepancies from Earth volcanoes prompted Thomas Gold (in 1979) and Anthony Peratt and A. J. Dessler (in 1988) to note the similarities of the unexpected features to electrical discharges in plasma. An electrical arc is about as hot as the surface of the Sun. It would easily "blind" a spacecraft’s sensors. And an arc often wanders over the surface of a cathode.

Arcs accelerate material to fairly high and uniform velocities. This produces uniform trajectories that deposit material a uniform distance from the source, explaining the rings around the "volcanoes." And the forces in the discharge channels pinch the arcs into filaments. Repulsive forces between filaments tend to space them equally, often in pairs, around the plumes. Peratt and Dessler remarked on the similarity of the filamentary umbrella shape to the shape discharged from a laboratory "plasma gun".

The cloud of charged particles flowing past Io constitutes an electrical current. Peratt and Dessler calculate that the power it should induce across Io is about equal to the energy of the "volcanoes".

The largest planet in the Solar System, with the most active magnetosphere in the Solar System, has its electrical circuits "shorted out" by its inner satellite. The million-Ampere currents flowing through Io’s crust make it a unique laboratory for studying the processes of interplanetary-scale electrical discharges. The scars produced will help us to distinguish electrical from impact scars left on other moons, comets, asteroids and planets.


The Mountains of Io

July 17, 2004

Credit: Galileo Project, JPL, NASA


Mongibello Mons, on the far left of this image, is a sharp ridge rising so high it would rank among the highest mountains if it were on Earth. The existence of mountains like this poses a mystery for traditional astronomers. Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. This activity is supposed to be caused by tidal forces from Jupiter and its other large moons. In order to produce so many fast-changing and sometimes moving volcanoes, Io must be nearly molten. The temperatures in the active regions were higher than the spacecraft Galileo’s thermal sensors could measure, far hotter than any volcano on Earth. Yet ridges like Mongibello Mons require a rigid crust to keep them from collapsing.

From an Electric Universe point of view, the volcanoes on Io are electrical arcs driven by charge differentials between Io and the plasma sheath (magnetosphere) that envelopes Jupiter. The discharge channels are very small and very hot. But between them, Io is not melted. The mountains left standing after the arcs have cut and melted their way around them remain supported by cold and firm bedrock.