Too hot to handle

Tuesday 30 June 1998

It beats the poet's imagination. Jupiter's moon Io is the closest to the fire and brimstone of hell in the Bible. The most volcanically active body known to humans is dotted by volcanic eruptions on the sulphurous surface. The Galileo spacecraft orbiting Jupiter has now reported a surface temperature of about 1527C at the site of a particularly powerful eruption on Io, announced researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Houston, USA. "This is probably the highest temperature volcanism ever seen anywhere," said Ashley Davies, planetary geologist at JPL. Scientists have described this as something "really exciting" as such high temperatures imply a sort of volcanism that has not been common on the Earth for billions of years. "We can use Io as a volcanological laboratory to test our models of terrestrial volcanism," Davies added. Jupiter's gravitational kneading makes Io burn with unusually hot inner fires, as documented by the Voyager spacecraft that flew by in 1979 ( Science , Vol 280, No 5362).

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