A massive volcanic eruption was observed on Jupiter’s moon Io. The eruption was observed in the fall of 2022 using the Io Input/Output Observatory (IoIO) by Planetary Science Institute (PSI) Senior Scientist Jeff Morgenthaler.
One of Jupiter’s largest moons, Io is considered the most volcanic body in the solar system, with its extreme conditions and annual eruption of volcanism caused by the enormous gravitational influence of its parent planet.
The gravity of Jupiter, the most massive planet in the solar system, and Jupiter’s other two large moons create powerful tidal forces within Io. This stretches and compresses Io, the innermost of Jupiter’s four large moons, causing intense volcanic activity.
Related: Io: A Guide to Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon
IoIO, operated by PSI, is located near Benson, Arizona and has been monitoring volcanic activity on Io since 2017. Using a coronographic technique that dims the light coming from Jupiter, the instrument can image faint gases near the gas giant.
This allowed Morgenthaler to see an increase in the brightness of sodium in a cloud or “nebula” around Jupiter that began between July and September 2022 and ended just last month.
The ionized sulfur that surrounds Jupiter in a doughnut shape and is called Io’s plasma torus also became brighter in the fall of 2022. However, this was less pronounced than the brightening of Io’s plasma torus observed during previous outbursts.
(Image credit: Jeff Morgenthaler, PSI)
“This could tell us something about the composition of the volcanic activity that caused the eruption, or that the torus is more efficient at getting rid of material when more material is thrown into it,” Morgenthaler said in a statement. (will open in a new tab).
IoIO observations could be followed by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting the gas giant since 2016. Juno is due to fly past Io in December 2023, and its instruments are sensitive to the plasma around Jupiter.
This plasma dates back to Io’s volcanic activity, which means Juno could tell astronomers whether the fall 2022 volcanic eruption had a different chemical composition than other Io eruptions.
However, before Juno can get close enough for such an investigation, Morgenthaler hopes more versions of IoIO can be up and running around the world.
“One of the exciting things about these observations is that they can be reproduced by just about any small college or ambitious amateur astronomer. Almost all of the parts used to build IoIO are available from a high-end camera or telescope store,” said Morgenthaler. . “It would be great to see another IoIO hit the network before Juno gets to Jupiter next December.”
These additional copies of IoIO in different locations around the world could help astronomers continue to observe Jupiter’s moon from Earth during breaks caused by adverse weather conditions. More IoIO devices could also provide more time to cover Jupiter’s highly dynamic plasma tori and the sodium nebula.
In addition to studying Jupiter and its surrounding elements, IoIO observes the sodium “tail” that follows Mercury and planets outside the solar system, exoplanets, as they pass by their star.
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