Giant volcanoes and lava flows highlight this image of Io, one of the larger moons of Jupiter. Hundreds of volcanoes dot Io's surface, making it by far the most volcanically active body in the solar system. The lava forms dark blobs and streaks, with some active regions, such as the one near the center of the image, in orange or red. Io's entire surface is paved with sulfur and other compounds from the volcanoes, giving it an overall yellow-orange tint. The image was compiled from several pictures snapped by the Galileo spacecraft in 1999, and shows a roughly true-color view of the moon. [NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona]
It sounds like an adventure traveler’s perfect destination. Volcanoes that blast hot gas hundreds of miles high. An ocean that’s dozens of miles deep, shielded by a thick icy crust. A storm with brilliant red clouds where winds blow at hundreds of miles an hour. Oh, and don’t forget the deadly radiation.
It’ll be a while before anyone can actually visit, though. That’s because the destination is Jupiter and its system of giant moons. Jupiter stands to the left of our own Moon at first light tomorrow, and looks like a brilliant star. Its largest moons are visible through binoculars.
Jupiter is the biggest planet in the solar system. Its most prominent feature is the Great Red Spot — a hurricane-like storm that’s twice as wide as Earth.
Jupiter’s four largest moons are worlds in their own right. The list includes Europa, which may be the best place to look for life beyond Earth — a deep ocean packed with the ingredients for life.
An even bigger source of energy is on the moon Io. Its interior is extremely hot. Pockets of gas and molten rock blast onto the surface through giant volcanoes, which pockmark the entire moon.
Some of the volcanic material escapes into space, forming a doughnut around Jupiter. It traps radiation from the Sun, creating a danger zone — a lethal belt of radiation. So it’ll take good shielding for future adventures to visit the wonders of the Jovian system.
More about Jupiter and the Moon tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
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