Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the Solar System, with hundreds of volcanoes, some erupting lava fountains up to 250 miles high. However, concentrations of volcanic activity are significantly displaced from where they are expected to be based on models that predict how the moon’s interior is heated, according to NASA and European Space Agency researchers.
This five-frame sequence of images from NASA’s New Horizons mission captures the giant plume from Io’s Tvashtar volcano. Snapped by the probe’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as the spacecraft flew past Jupiter in 2007, this first-ever movie of an Io plume clearly shows motion in the cloud of volcanic debris, which extends 330 km (205 miles) above the moon’s surface. Only the upper part of the plume is visible from this vantage point. The plume’s source is 130 km (80 miles) below the edge of Io’s disk, on the far side of the moon. Io’s hyperactive nature is emphasized by the fact that two other volcanic plumes are also visible off the edge of Io’s disk: Masubi at the 7 o’clock position, and a very faint plume, possibly from the volcano Zal, at the 10 o’clock position. Jupiter illuminates the night side of Io, and the most prominent feature visible on the disk is the dark horseshoe shape of the volcano Loki, likely an enormous lava lake. Boosaule Mons, which at 18 km (11 miles) is the highest mountain on Io and one of the highest mountains in the solar system, pokes above the edge of the disk on the right side. The five images were obtained over an 8-minute span, with two minutes between frames, from 23:50 to 23:58 Universal Time on 1 March 2007. Io was 3.8 million km (2.4 million miles) from New Horizons.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
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Fly with the New Horizons spacecraft as it cruises by dozens of newly-discovered Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) near its trajectory. These objects were found by our survey team (gray points) as well as by members of the public through Ice Hunters (purple points) during a search - still under way - to find a KBO for New Horizons to approach close enough to take detailed images and measurements of its surface.
“A fifth moon has been discovered orbiting Pluto. The moon was discovered earlier this month in images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in preparation for the New Horizons mission’s scheduled flyby of Pluto in 2015. Pictured above, the moon is currently seen as only a small blip that moves around the dwarf planet as the entire system slowly orbits the Sun. The moon, given a temporary designation of S/2012 (134340) 1 or just P5 (as labeled), is estimated to span about 15 kilometers and is likely composed mostly of water-ice. Pluto remains the only famous Solar System body never visited by a human-built probe and so its origins and detailed appearance remain mostly unknown.”
A Jupiter-Io Montage from New Horizons
Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins U. APL, SWRI
“As the New Horizons spacecraft sweeps through the Solar System, it is taking breathtaking images of the planets. In February of last year, New Horizons passed Jupiter and the ever-active Jovian moon Io. In this montage, Jupiter was captured in three bands of infrared light making the Great Red Spot look white. Complex hurricane-like ovals, swirls, and planet-ringing bands are visible in Jupiter’s complex atmosphere. Io is digitally superposed in natural color. Fortuitously, a plume was emanating from Io’s volcano Tvashtar. Frost and sulfuric lava cover the volcanic moon, while red-glowing lava is visible beneath the blue sunlight-scattering plume. The robotic New Horizons spacecraft is on track to arrive at Pluto in 2015.”
Space Travel Info-graphic.
” On February 28, 2007, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to Jupiter on its ultimate journey to Pluto. This flyby gave scientists a unique opportunity to study Jupiter using the package of instruments available on New Horizons, while coordinating observations from both space- and ground-based telescopes including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
In preparation for New Horizon’s approach of Jupiter, Chandra took 5-hour exposures of Jupiter on February 8, 10, and 24th. In this new composite image, data from those separate Chandra’s observations were combined, and then superimposed on the latest image of Jupiter from the Hubble Space Telescope.
The purpose of the Chandra observations is to study the powerful X-ray auroras observed near the poles of Jupiter. These are thought to be caused by the interaction of sulfur and oxygen ions in the outer regions of the Jovian magnetic field with particles flowing away from the Sun in the so-called solar wind. Scientists would like to better understand the details of this process, which produces auroras up to a thousand times more powerful than similar auroras seen on Earth.
Following closest approach on the 28th, Chandra will continue to observe Jupiter over the next few weeks. New Horizons will take an unusual trajectory past Jupiter that takes it directly down the so-called magnetic tail of the planet, a region where no spacecraft has gone before. The sulfur and oxygen particles that dominate Jupiter’s magnetosphere and originate in Io’s volcanoes are eventually lost down this magnetic tail. One goal of the Chandra observations is to see if any of the X-ray auroral emissions are related to this process.
By combining Chandra observations with the New Horizons data, plus ultraviolet information from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and FUSE satellite, and optical data from ground-based telescopes, astronomers hope to get a more complete picture of Jupiter’s complicated system of particles and magnetic fields and energetic particles. In the weeks and months to come, astronomers will undertake detailed analysis of this bounty of data. “
X-ray: NASA/CXC/SwRI/R.Gladstone et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (AURA/STScI)
Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage
Pluto’s Hidden Ocean
When NASA’s New Horizons cruises by Pluto in 2015, the images it captures could help astronomers determine if an ocean is hiding under the frigid surface. New research has not only concluded such an ocean is likely, but also has highlighted features the spacecraft could identify that could help confirm an ocean’s existence.
Pluto’s outer surface is composed of a thin shell of nitrogen ice, covering a shell of water ice. Planetary scientists have wanted to find out whether or not an ocean could exist underneath this icy shell, and what visible signs such an ocean might produce on the surface.
As spherical bodies spin, their angular momentum tends to push material towards the equator, forming a bulge. If Pluto boasts a liquid layer, the ice would flow, reducing such a protrusion. But finding a “frozen-in” primordial bulge, left over from when Pluto spun more rapidly, would signify a lack of ocean.
As Pluto cooled over its lifetime, the temperature changes resulted in a change in volume, creating surface stresses. Icy water beneath the shell would result in tensional stresses as the ice was stretched, while a solid layer would have meant compressional stresses as the material was squeezed. Such fractures would likely span the globe, rather than being unique to specific areas.
This is ideal, since New Horizons will not map the entire surface of Pluto. Because of the complications involved in going into orbit, the craft will only fly past the icy dwarf planet. Only the hemisphere facing the spacecraft near the time of the flyby will be mapped at the highest resolution, revealing ridges and valleys with heights and depths of 80 meters and potential geysers similar to those found on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.