The most volcanically active celestial body in our solar system

Io is one of Jupiter’s four large moons. If you look at the gas planet with a telescope, you’ll see that the gas giant is surrounded by four white dots, including Io. The Moon has more than 400 (!) volcanoes, making it the most volcanically active celestial body in the solar system. These volcanoes release sulfur dioxide into the air, giving the Moon its own atmosphere, but much of it also ends up in space.

You may be wondering why Io is so volcanically active. This is because of Jupiter. The gas giant’s immense gravity pulls on the moon, generating friction and heat on Io. The larger moons Ganymede and Europa also lend a hand. This causes Io’s interior to heat up and volcanoes to form on its surface.

This week’s space image is a razor-sharp mosaic, made up of several images taken by the Galileo space probe. This space probe flew 130,000 kilometers above the surface of the natural satellite on July 3, 1999. The colors of the image are real and match what we humans see when we visit the moon. In the image below, three kilometers of detail are visible, including volcanoes.

In the photo you also see yellow, white and orange spots. This is frozen sulfur dioxide ice covered in a layer of volcanic dust. The largest volcano on the island of Io is Loki Patera. This volcano has a diameter of 202 kilometers and produces the most heat of all the volcanoes in our solar system. In fact, the volcano is more active than all the volcanoes on our planet combined. Loki volcano erupts almost annually and these eruptions can be seen from the Earth’s surface.

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Sand dunes on Io
Io still keeps scientists busy to this day. Last year, researchers discovered that sand dunes could potentially be found on the Pizza Moon. This is strange. “Although the winds on Io blow much faster than the winds on Earth (up to 1,000 kilometers per hour), their strength is much more limited than those on Earth,” researcher George MacDonald tells Scientias.nl. In fact, the winds on Io are 100,000 times weaker than the winds on Earth. Sand dunes on Io are formed not by wind, but by lava flows that evaporate snow underground.

Is there life around Jupiter?
Unfortunately, there is no mission to Io at the moment. The US space agency is sending a spacecraft to another Jovian moon: Europa. The so-called Europe Clipper will reach the Moon around 2030 and will make dozens of flybys around Europe. In this way, astronomers hope to learn more about the ocean hiding beneath the thick ice crust. Researcher Robert Pappalardo said: “The prediction of the presence of hot, rocky interior volcanoes and subsurface volcanoes of Europe increases the possibility that the vast ocean is a habitable environment.” That would be good news for the search for extraterrestrial life.

In recent decades, space telescopes and satellites have captured beautiful images of nebulae, galaxies, stellar nurseries, and planets. Every weekend, we take a cool space photo from the archives. Enjoy all the pictures? See them on this page.

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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