10 Out-Of-This-World Facts About Jupiter’s Moon Io

The second-smallest and innermost of the four Galilean moons, Io, was first documented by Galileo Galilei in January 1610. Io, along with moons Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto, proved to Earthlings that our pale blue dot was not the center of the universe, galaxy, or even the solar system, since these four satellites seemingly orbited Jupiter as opposed to us. While Galileo kept his observation secret for years to follow because of the Catholic Church at the time, his documentation of Io paved the way for some very strange findings concerning this moon in subsequent centuries.

Referred to as Jupiter’s “pizza moon” due to its bright and blotted landscape, Io has also been regarded as a moon of fire and ice since it resides in an utterly cold place in our solar system (nearly 400 million miles from the Sun), but, unlike Jupiter’s other moons, it emits massive amounts of heat despite its small size. As a highly volcanic place (perhaps a bit of an understatement after reading further below), modern-day scientists have observed a hellish landscape in the cosmos if there ever was one.

In true sci-fi fashion, Galileo named Io “Jupiter I,” but the moon was given its mythological name in the mid-1850s. Coined after the priestess of Hera (Zeus’s wife), Io’s heavenly body was one of many that Zeus (the counterpart for the Roman god Jupiter) had a fling with. In Greek mythology, Io transformed into a cow to avoid being caught by Hera, a fitting story due to the moon’s strangeness and almost shape-shifting landscape of oddities. Below are ten out-of-this-world facts about Io, one of the strangest natural satellites in our corner of the cosmos.

Devoid Of Water

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is one of the driest places in the solar system. When Io originally formed around Jupiter, it occurred in a region filled with water ice. Scientists believe that water existed on Io after its formation. However, any water that may have existed on Io in the past has long since been removed from the landscape by Jupiter’s intense radiation.

This doesn’t mean scientists have ruled out the possibility of life existing in Io, rather than on. If any life exists on “Jupiter I,” it would most likely be organisms deep in the crustal rocks of the moon. So, if you were hoping to find E.T. on a place like Io, you might need to search underground so as to protect from the radiation!

Huge Volcanoes

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Io is extremely volcanically active. We’ve all heard of the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980 in Washington, the Mount Vesuvius eruption in AD 79 that left the ancient city of Pompeii encased in ash, or the Yellowstone supervolcano that lies below the state of Wyoming. However, these pale in comparison to what occurs on Io. In fact, hundreds of volcanoes exist on the little moon and are the primary contributor to weather on Io’s surface.

Io’s volcanic eruptions are so powerful that they can be seen from telescopes here on Earth. The explosions occurring on Io are said to cover hundreds of square miles within seconds. Some single eruptions have been said to emit 20 trillion watts of energy and blow plumes of debris completely off of the moon’s surface and into space. Sometimes, plumes of sulfur, rock, and debris reach 400 kilometers (250 mi) above the surface. The eruptions on Io are usually thousands of times more powerful than anything occurring on our planet. After eruptions, Io’s volcanoes can create rivers of lava flowing hundreds of miles long in some cases.

Lava Sea

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Beneath Io’s surface are moon-spanning seas of magma. Squeezing, squishing, and sloshing underneath the moon’s crust, this gelatin-like layer of magma fuels Io’s intense volcanism, therefore allowing Io’s surface to literally float upon liquid rock. This underground reservoir of liquid rock is 50 kilometers (30 mi) thick and explains why Io is by far the most actively volcanic place in the solar system.

Recently, scientists have estimated that Io, while only having a diameter roughly as wide as North America, releases 100 times more lava than all volcanoes on Earth combined. On one region of Io, named Loki Patera after the Norse trickster god, a single volcanic depression spans 204 kilometers (127 mi) and is constantly filled with magma from below the surface.Believed to be an exposed sea of lava, it would be millions of times larger than any “sea” of lava found on Earth.

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