Volcanic Tug Of War

On the realm of Jupiter, a moon

' squeezed like an anger ball '.

Io, the third largest of Jupiter's moons,is caught in a pressurized, explosive tug of war. Orbiting near the huge planet and also near Ganymede and Europa, two of the other large Jovian moons, Io is constantly pulled and pushed by gravity, creating frictional heat deep inside the moon.

The stresses make it extremely active volcanically.

Hundreds of volcanoes and extensive networks of lava flows mark Io surface.

''It's being squeezed like an anger ball,'' said Jeff Morgenthaler, an astrophysicist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

Despite a number of close flights by spacecraft over the past few decades, as well as constant observation from Earth, mysteries persist about the volcanic activity on Io and how its fiery energy interacts with Jupiter and other nearby bodies.

Last year, Dr. Morgenthaler picked up signs of a new kind of eruption - a more powerful or more persistent one. When he examined gases thrown into space by the eruption, he found less sulfur dioxide than had been expected.

The observation could indicate that the eruption was the disturbance of an unusual mix of chemicals. In particular, Dr. Morgenthaler said, it suggests a need for more research.

'' I'm just raising the flag, and saying, '' This has happened,' '' he said. [ Oliver Whang ]. 


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