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Io #1 Proto-Earth

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December 31, 2012 in Science


*Original Discovery

“Io is the most geologically active body in the Solar System, and though it is less than a third of Earth’s size, it generates twice as much heat as the Earth.”

“Jupiter’s volcano-pocked moon Io has been found by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft to have a giant iron core that takes up half its diameter, scientists report in today’s issue of Science magazine.”



“Io has the youngest surface in the Solar System”


“As Jupiter rotates, it takes its magnetic field around with it, sweeping past Io and stripping off about 1,000 kg (1 ton) of Io’s material every second! This material becomes ionized in the magnetic field and forms a doughnut-shaped cloud of intense radiation referred to as a plasma torus. Some of the ions are pulled into Jupiter’s atmosphere along the magnetic lines of force and create auroras in the planet’s upper atmosphere. It is the ions escaping from this torus that inflate Jupiter’s magnetosphere to over twice the size we would expect.”



“Io has some very large volcanoes. One of the largest is evident near the center of the above photograph and named Pele, for the mythological Polynesian fire goddess. The Galileo spacecraft now orbiting Jupiter took this picture of Jupiter’s most active moon in June, although it was released just last week. Evident around Pele is a large red ring, thought to be evidence of recent volcanic activity. The red color indicates the presence of Sulfur, although how the Sulfur was produced is not precisely known.”



How do we reconcile the idea of abundant liquid water with the Hell-on-Earth scenario traditionally theorized for the Hadean? According to David Morrison, senior scientist at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, some of the things we first assumed about the Hadean may simply be wrong. Earth’s bombardment by asteroids and comets, for example, probably did not happen the way it is often illustrated, with multiple, simultaneous impacts streaking across a red-tinged sky.

“The idea of a global magma ocean is also probably overblown,” says Morrison. “We know from experience on Earth that lava cools very rapidly on the surface. I have walked across a lava field in Hawaii within 10 hours of its emplacement with no more harm than slightly singed soles on my boots, and within a month, a lava flow is cool to the touch.” A planet with intermittent volcanism—even at much higher rates than we see on Earth today—is likely to have a relatively cool, solid crust most of the time, not a seething magma ocean. It is even possible for much of such a planet to be ice-covered.”


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