Astronomers have observed atmopsheric changes in volcanically active moon Io. It begins to deflate every time Jupiter casts its shadow over the moon's surface
Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active body in our solar system. The surface of the moon is dotted with lava lakes and volcanoes which spew plumes of sulfur hundreds of miles above in the atmosphere.
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Because of this extreme volcanic activity, Io holds a fascination for scientists and they have been studying its atmosphere intensively over the years.
Using Gemini North telescope in Hawaii and the Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrograph (TEXES), researchers have now observed that Io’s atmosphere begins to ‘deflate’ every time Jupiter cast its shadow on the moon’s surface.
Io’s atmosphere collapses when Jupiter comes between the moon and the Sun and blocks the sunlight. As a result, the thin atmosphere of Io which is primarily made of sulfur dioxide freezes. When the moon moves out the eclipse and heats up, frozen sulfur converts into gas again.
Io remains in darkness 2 hours every day which is about 1.7 Earth days. During eclipse, it temperature drops to -270 degrees Fahrenheit but when the eclipse is over, Sun gradually heats it up to -235 degrees Fahrenheit.
“This confirms that Io's atmosphere is in a constant state of collapse and repair, and shows that a large fraction of the atmosphere is supported by sublimation of SO2 ice,” said John Spencer, a Southwest Research Institue (SwRI) scientist who was involved in the study.
“Though Io's hyperactive volcanoes are the ultimate source of the SO2, sunlight controls the atmospheric pressure on a daily basis by controlling the temperature of the ice on the surface. We've long suspected this, but can finally watch it happen.”
Scientists have long suspected that Io’s collapses ever time Jupiter between the moon and the sun but the process has not been viewed directly until now. Powerful Gemini telescope and TEXES made it possible for scientists to observe atmospheric changes in Io’ during the eclipse which was otherwise difficult to look at because of the darkness.
Constantine Tsang, principal investigator of the study says. “This research is the first time scientists have observed this phenomenon directly, improving our understanding of this geologically active moon.”
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