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Juno discovers massive lava lake on Io

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NASA’s Juno spacecraft recently made two close flybys of Jupiter’s moon Io, coming within 1,500 km (930 miles) of its surface. These flybys provided scientists with new and detailed information about the moon’s volcanic activity, making Io the most volcanic object in the Solar System. One of the most fascinating discoveries was the visual animation created from Juno’s data, showcasing Io’s 200-km-long lava lake Loki Patera. The animation depicts islands within the magma lake, surrounded by hot lava that gives the lake’s surface a smooth, glass-like appearance.

During a news conference at the European Geophysical Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton expressed his excitement about the images captured by the spacecraft. He described the intricate details of the volcanic features on Io, highlighting the specular reflection observed on the lake’s surface, similar to volcanic glass formations on Earth.

This animation is an artist’s concept of Loki Patera, a lava lake on Jupiter’s moon Io, made using data from the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft. With multiple islands in its interior, Loki is a depression filled with magma and rimmed with molten lava. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

The images captured by Juno during the flybys in December 2023 and February 2024 revealed the northern latitudes of Io in unprecedented detail. The moon’s surface, resembling a colorful pizza from previous observations, showcased an array of volcanic features such as vents, calderas, lava flows, and volcanic plumes in various hues.

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Io’s sub-Jovian hemisphere is revealed in detail for the first time since Voyager 1 flew through the Jupiter system in March 1979, during the Juno spacecraft’s 58th perijove, or close pass, on February 3, 2024. This image shows Io’s nightside illuminated by sunlight reflected off Jupiter’s cloud tops. Several surface changes are visible include a reshaping of the compound flow field at Kanehekili (center left) and a new lava flow to the east of Kanehekili. This image has a pixel scale of 1.6 km/pixel. Credit : NASA/SwRI/JPL/MSSS/Jason Perry.

One of the standout features captured by Juno’s instruments was a spired mountain on Io called “The Steeple,” standing tall at heights between 5 and 7 kilometers. The origin of such a unique landform, created by volcanic activity, continues to puzzle scientists.

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Created using data collected by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno during flybys in December 2023 and February 2024, this animation is an artist’s concept of a feature on the Jovian moon Io that the mission science team nicknamed “Steeple Mountain.” Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Recent studies have revealed astonishing facts about Io’s volcanic history, suggesting that the moon has been erupting since the early days of the Solar System. The volcanic activity on Io is driven by tidal heating, caused by its orbital resonance with Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede.

A study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets by an international team of researchers led by Ery Hughes from GNS Science in New Zealand shed light on the long-term volcanic processes shaping Io. The authors explained how the orbital resonance of Io with other Jupiter moons generates tidal heating, fueling the moon’s continuous volcanic eruptions over billions of years.

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Jupiter’s orbital system with the host planet and orbits to scale. Image credit: James Tuttle Keane / Keck Institute for Space Studies

Using advanced techniques and observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, scientists studied the sulfur gases in Io’s atmosphere to trace the moon’s volcanic history. The isotopic composition of sulfur on Io provided insights into the duration of tidal heating and volcanic activity on the moon.

The findings of these studies indicate that Io has been volcanically active for most of its history, with varying eruption rates over time. The continuous volcanic eruptions have shaped Io’s unique landscape, making it a fascinating object for further exploration.

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As Juno continues its mission in the Jupiter system, gathering valuable data and images of Jupiter’s moons, the spacecraft remains a pivotal tool in our understanding of the Solar System’s complex dynamics. With upcoming flybys and ongoing research, Juno promises to unveil more mysteries of the gas giant and its intriguing moons.

References: Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets – Isotopic Evidence of Long-Lived Volcanism on Io, Research Paper – Using Io’s Sulfur Isotope Cycle to Understand the History of Tidal Heating

For more information, visit NASA and GNS Science.

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Massive Landslide in Papua New Guinea Leaves Hundreds Presumed Dead

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A devastating landslide in rural Papua New Guinea has left at least three people dead and hundreds more feared to have perished under the rubble and debris. The disaster struck three villages early Friday morning, engulfing them in a massive landslide that buried homes and trapped residents. Local officials, including Sandis Tsaka, the provincial administrator for Enga, have expressed grave concerns over the high death toll expected due to the densely populated nature of the area.

The death toll could be in the hundreds, making it one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region. Prime Minister James Marape described it as possibly the country’s biggest landslide, attributing the catastrophe to prolonged and extraordinary rainfall in recent months.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by the unstable terrain and ongoing rain, complicating the search for survivors. Nearly 4,000 people inhabit the affected villages, primarily subsistence farmers in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea.

The landslide, comparable to the size of three or four soccer fields, has caused significant damage to the area, including the main thoroughfare, the Porgera Highway. International aid organizations and the country’s defense forces are mobilizing to provide assistance to the affected communities.

Despite challenges such as tribal conflicts and delays in aid delivery, efforts are underway to rescue those trapped under the debris. The region’s unstable geology, exacerbated by heavy rainfall, has made it prone to landslides, posing a constant threat to the expanding villages.

President Joe Biden and Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, have pledged support for Papua New Guinea’s rescue and recovery operations. The global community is standing in solidarity with the affected population, offering assistance and aid to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

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As the search for survivors continues and the death toll rises, it is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of communities in disaster-prone regions. The resilience and unity shown in times of crisis highlight the strength and compassion of humanity in facing such tragedies.

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