Saturday, April 6, 2013

Io is the most volcanically active world in the Solar System,

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.

Io is caught in a tug-of-war between Jupiter's massive gravity and the smaller but precisely timed pulls from two neighboring moons that orbit further from Jupiter – Europa and Ganymede. Io orbits faster than these other moons, completing two orbits every time Europa finishes one, and four orbits for each one Ganymede makes. This regular timing means that Io feels the strongest gravitational pull from its neighboring moons in the same orbital location, which distorts Io's orbit into an oval shape. This in turn causes Io to flex as it moves around Jupiter. 

For example, as Io gets closer to Jupiter, the giant planet's powerful gravity deforms the moon toward it and then, as Io moves farther away, the gravitational pull decreases and the moon relaxes. The flexing from gravity causes tidal heating -- in the same way that you can heat up a spot on a wire coat hanger by repeatedly bending it, the flexing creates friction in Io's interior, which generates the tremendous heat that powers the moon's extreme volcanism.

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