Friday, February 20, 2015

2015 Io Volcano Observer Proposal

The deadline for NASA's Discovery proposals was this week. 28 proposals were submitted with targets ranging from Phobos and Deimos, to Venus, to asteroids like metallic 16 Psyche, and even Enceladus.  Of course, the one that Ionians will be pulling for is the Io Volcano Observer (IVO), proposed by a team led by the University of Arizona's Alfred McEwen and managed by John Hopkins' Applied Physics Lab, which is making its second go around after also being submitted for the 2010 Discovery Announcement of Opportunity (AO).  The Martian lander, InSight, was ultimately chosen after that AO over a great set of proposed missions, which included a boat that would've sailed around Titan's great Kraken Mare.

IVO, if selected this time around, would launch in late May 2021 with an arrival at Jupiter in February 2026 after a 510 km altitude flyby of Io.  IVO would remain in an elliptical, inclined orbit around Jupiter, flying by Io eight more times during the nominal mission between August 2026 and late December 2027.  An extended mission with nearly year-long orbits is possible, providing high-resolution, imaging coverage of Io's leading hemisphere in daylight as well as collaboration with the JUICE spacecraft.  Unlike the 2010 proposal, this year's would make use of advanced, roll-out solar panels to power the probe and its five instruments, instead of the Advanced Sterling Radioisotope Generators that are unavailable to proposal teams this time around.  These instruments include: two cameras, one narrow-angle and the other wide-angle (NAC and WAC); a Thermal Mapper (TMAP); Dual Fluxgate Magnetometers (DMAG); and a suite of particle instruments (PEPI), which includes an ion and neutral mass spectrometer (INMS) and a Plasma Ion Analyzer (PIA). There is also the potential for an add-on, student collaboration instrument, a wide-angle, near-infrared camera named HOTMAP.  While the WAC, PEPI, and HOTMAP will be bolted to the spacecraft, the NAC and TMAP will be on a ± 90° pivot, allowing for off-nadir pointing of those instruments without turning the entire spacecraft.

The mission's main goals include mapping Io's active volcanism on a more global scale than Galileo and Voyager were able to obtain, measuring Io's induced magnetic field at different points in its orbit around Jupiter to provide a better estimate for the thickness, distribution, and melt percentage of its magma ocean, mapping Io's topography including its numerous mountains, and measuring the composition of the volcanic gases that are released from Io's interior.  During two of its flybys (I0 and I2), IVO will acquire gravity science using 2-Way Doppler tracking, which combined with the gravity data acquired during a few of Galileo's encounters with Io, will constrain our knowledge of mantle rigidity.  The mission will also act as a technology demonstration for Deep Space Optical Communications, which could substantial increase the data return of future missions.

On each orbit, IVO will spend a week acquiring images of Io, allowing it to map Io so changes at its many volcanoes can be observed and to monitor hot spots and auroral emissions during four different eclipses.  IVO would also use this time to help look for Europa's elusive plumes in support of Europa Clipper, which should arrive at Jupiter shortly after IVO.  During the 24 hours around closest approach, while IVO approaches and departs from Io over its polar regions, IVO will acquire several NAC mosaics of Io along with TMAP images to map heat flow and monitor volcanism.  The NAC will also be used to acquire movies of active plumes like Pele and Marduk.  Finally, right at closest approach, the spacecraft will acquire WAC, NAC, TMAP, and maybe HOTMAP imaging swaths along with INMS mass spectra and DMAG/PIA measurements as IVO sweeps north across Io.  At least 20 Gb of data (100x the Io data returned by Galileo) would be acquired during each encounter and will be played back during the apojove part of each orbit (distant monitoring observations will also be acquired to help watch for new major eruptions).

More information about this exciting mission can be found in an abstract submitted to next month's Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference.  A fact sheet with even more details about Io Volcano Observer is also available.  NASA expects to select three (or so) finalists for Phase A studies in September with a final selection from those sometime next year.

Link: The Io Volcano Observer (IVO) for Discovery 2015 []
Link: Io Volcano Observer Public Fact Sheet []

Friday, February 6, 2015

Hubble Observes Last Month's Triple-Moon Conjunction

Yesterday, the Space Telescope Institute released a set of images as well as a movie of Jupiter acquired during a rare triple moon-shadow transit on January 24.  During the event, Io, Europa, and Callisto aligned so that the three moons and their shadows appeared to move across the face of Jupiter.  The next such triple-event won't take place until 2025.  The Hubble images were even sharp enough to spot some of Io and Callisto's large scale albedo markings (like the flow field around Io's Isum Patera or the bright patch in the middle of Callisto's Asgard impact basin).  With a keen eye, you can even spot the small inner moons, Amalthea and Thebe, and their shadows as two pairs of faint dark spots passing between Io and Callisto against the bright equatorial zone.

The difference in the crispness of the moons' shadows results from their different distances from Jupiter.  Io is much closer to Jupiter than Callisto, so when it easily eclipses the Sun when it passes in front of it in Jupiter's sky.  Callisto is farther away, so it appears to be closer in size to the Sun so there is a more narrow zone where it completely eclipses it (the umbra) and a wider zone where only a partial eclipse occurs (the penumbra), similar to solar eclipses on the Earth.

Opposition for Jupiter is today, and now that the moon is moving further away from Jupiter in the night sky, this is a great time to observe it and its Galilean satellites.  Great ground-based images are showing up, including these sets taken by Anthony Wesley and Christopher Go.

Link: Hubble Captures Rare Triple-Moon Conjunction []
Link: ALPO-Jupiter Images from February 5 []

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Four years later...

Has it really been four years since I last updated this blog?  It's hard for me to believe, but yes, it has been quite a while.  As I mentioned in that last post, the blog really started to mess with my work/life balance quite a bit when I started doing the "Io Volcano of the Week" feature.  It was a neat idea for generating fresh content for this site, but I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time on those posts, to the detriment of the rest of my free time.

I think with Discovery proposal season wrapping up and all the warm, over-optimistic feels that generates, I think now is a good time to revive The Gish Bar Times blog, but I really want to go back to focusing on new papers, missions, and data rather than trying to generate a lot of fresh content that took up way to much of my free time and quickly left me worn out.  I think I had this feeling that I always had to come up with more posts when honestly, the focus of this blog is not generating much news right now, and that's okay.

That being said, I do have a long backlog of papers that I haven't discussed here in the last four years, so I should run out of things to talk about here for a while.  My favorite part about doing this blog is that it really forced me to read the current literature and writing articles about them really helped to reinforce what I read.

In the meantime, I wanted to point out this neat site which presents planetary maps for children, including Io, Europa, Mars, Venus, and Titan. The maps were created by a group of graphic artists for the ICA Commission on Planetary Cartography.  The Io map (a portion of which is shown at the top of the post) was created by Dóri Sirály.  I kinda wish the Titan map had more of a medieval map art style (like I keep saying I want to make myself...) but I think these are all well done.

Link: Planetary Maps for Children []
Link: Planetary Map Series for Children (LPSC abstract) []

Friday, May 13, 2011

Liquid Hot Magma Ocean Resolved in Galileo Magnetometer Data

I'm sorry I haven't posted on this blog in eight months.  I'm not sure why I stopped writing.  I think it just became more difficult for me to push past writer's block when you have to be the one to generate new content for a blog as opposed to using a flow of new information to help me to populate new articles.  But that's where I was last year, and it didn't help that I was interested in starting a new history blog which took up even more of my free time than I suspected.  It didn't help that in the middle of trying to write about this news for you, Blogger went down for more than 20 hours.  But as of five minutes ago, Blogger is back online and I can bring this exciting news to you.

Anyways, at least for today, that is over now as there is a fresh report out today in Science Express providing further evidence for a magma ocean beneath the surface of Io!  I know!  Big news!  This is a paper I've been looking forward to seeing for more than year and half.  Scientists have long suspected that Io has a mushy magma ocean based on tidal heating models where much of it is dissipated in the asthenosphere (otherwise known as the upper mantle) and on eruption temperature estimates from Galileo data.  This new paper provides another method, electromagnetic induction sounding, to look for a magma ocean inside Io.

I reported on this new work in October 2009 when it was first presented at a Division of Planetary Sciences meeting and again in January 2010 when Richard Kerr wrote about that presentation, given by Krishan Khurana, in Science magazine. These results are now online as an article in press at the Science Express website (meaning the paper has been approved for publication but has not been published in the print version of Science magazine).  For those outside the Science mag paywall, check out the JPL press release.

Khurana and his co-authors, Xianzhe Jia, Margaret Kivelson, Francis Nimmo, Gerald Schubert, and Christopher Russell re-examined Galileo Magnetometer data acquired during two of the spacecraft's encounters with Io in October 1999 and February 2000.  Data was acquired on two other encounters, however they were polar passes and weren't nearly as useful for detecting a magma ocean.  The magnetometer measured the absolute magnitude of the magnetic field surrounding the spacecraft and its magnitude in the three spatial components (Bx, By, and Bz).  Near Io, the spacecraft mostly measured how Jupiter's magnetic field was perturbed by Io's atmosphere.  In the atmosphere, plasma from Jupiter's magnetosphere is slowed as it takes on more mass and as charge is exchanged with these new particles.  The magnetic field lines are also affected by interactions with Io's conducting ionosphere.  Alfven wings which couple the Ionian and Jovian ionosphere in an electrical current called the Io flux tube further affect the local magnetic field vectors (this charged particle interaction produces the aurorae seen at Io as well as the auroral footprint in Jupiter's atmosphere).  The big breakthrough in sorting out these interactions have been new magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) models developed in the last decade.  With these interactions removed, Khurana and his colleagues were able to look at the residual magnetic field, with a field strength of greater than 500 nanoteslas.  This residual magnetic field could either be intrinsic, generated by convection with Io's molten iron core, or from induction, within a conducive layer within Io.

The authors looked at an inducted magnetic field on Io first.  So what could create an induced magnetic field at Io?  Induced magnetic fields are created when a time-variable magnetic field sweeps through an electrically-conductive material, like the briny water oceans of Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.  Jupiter's magnetic field is tilted with respect to Io's orbital plane, so at times Io is above or below the normal plane of Jupiter's magnetic field.  The time-variable magnetic field produces electrical currents within the conductive material, which produce a magnetic field through induction.  The direction of this current changes twice each Jovian day (remember, the magnetosphere is co-rotational with Jupiter, even at the distance of Io), causing the poles of the induced field to switch twice each Jovian day.  Additional induced responses are created using the greater rotational harmonics of Jupiter's internal dynamo.

In order to determine the best fit to the available Galileo data, Khurana and his group created a model of Io's interior using multiple shells, each layer with a conductivity based on its expected composition, temperature, and physical state, to measure the induced response to Jupiter's magnetic field.  They were only able to test the three strongest rotational harmonics (13, 5.6, and 5 hours) given the limited data set that included two flybys, however these just by chance happened to fit these harmonics and were outside the densest part of the Jupiter plasma sheet.  These harmonics are excited by the dipolar, quadrupolar, and octupolar terms of Jupiter's internal dynamo.  The interior model for Io used a bulk chondritic composition divided into a solid, cold, silicate crust 50 kilometers thick and with zero conductivity, a molten iron core 900-1000 kilometers in radius, and a mantle in between consisting of 44% SiO2, 32% MgO, and 14% FeO.  The mantle composition is similar to lherzolite, a ultramafic igneous rock found in Spizbergen, Sweden and in the French Pyrenees.  The research team used the conductivity of that rock at various temperatures to simulate Io's mantle.

Khurana's group found that using a solid mantle, even one with induction, didn't provide a good fit to the Galileo data.  They then added a conducting asthenosphere shell between the cold lithosphere and the solid lower mantle in their model.  They found that using a conductivity of 1 Siemen per meter for the asthenosphere, they were able to generate an induced field with a strength greater than 600 nanoteslas, closely matching the Galileo data.  It turns out that like the salt water in the sub-surface oceans within Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, and Titan, ultramafic rock melts are also conductive with conductivities in the range of 1-5 S/m at 1200-1400°C or, according to the paper, partial molten rocks with conductivities ranging from "10-4 to 5 S/m depending on factors such as temperature. composition, melt fraction, and melt connectivity."  This approaches the conductivity of sea water, like the ocean found beneath Europa's crust.

The thickness of the conductive layer cannot be independently determined from the data other than it is thicker than 50 kilometers.  Beyond 200 kilometers in thickness, the induction response saturates.   They did find that the induced field strength is sensitive to melt fraction and the authors determined that Io's magma ocean would need to be at least 20% molten to replicate the Galileo data.  So think of it as more a slurry rather than the ocean you might envision beneath Europa's surface, which would be much less viscous.  Finally, the authors determined that in order to produce this induced magnetic field, the magma ocean would have to be global, rather than just a few patches near active volcanoes or just along the equator, though they don't rule out variations in asthenospheric thickness or melt fraction due to differences in tidal heating between the equator and the poles.

This discovery does help to put to rest the question of whether Io has a magma ocean beneath its surface.  You would think it had one considering the wide-spread nature of its extreme volcanism.  The idea was first proposed by M. H. Ross and Gerald Schubert in 1985 and it was revived in an Icarus note in 1999 by Laszlo Keszthelyi, Alfred McEwen, and G. Jeffrey Taylor [Taylor wrote an article for the University of Hawaii website on this model in case you are outside the Icarus paywall].  Keszthelyi et al. proposed that the then recent results from Galileo's Solid State Imager, suggesting eruption temperatures during 1997 eruption at Pillan reaching 2000 K, necessitated a large melt fraction within at least the upper portion of Io's mantle.  Their article presented a model where the melt fraction was approaching 35% near the boundary between the crust and the asthenosphere and decreased the deeper you got into Io until you hit 6% near the core-mantle boundary.  However, the high temperatures seen at volcanoes like Pillan would suggest melt fractions in some places as high as 70%.  A re-evaluation of the Pillan data in 2007 by Keszthelyi et al. reduced the eruption temperatures required at Pillan and conversely the melt fraction needed in Io's upper mantle to 20-30% with interconnected magma reaching down as far as 600 km below Io's surface.  The new results presented by Khurana confirm the presence of a magma ocean suggested by these authors and support Keszthelyi's current model of Io's interior.

The expected melt fraction, ≥ 20%, means that while this is a global ocean, it is more slushy hot magma, as opposed to liquid hot magma thanks to the 80% by volume suspended crystals in the ocean.  In fact it would be physically impossible to the melt fraction to get to close to 100% as tidal heating would become much less efficient and the asthenosphere would cool down, decreasing the melt fraction.  Conversely, the melt fraction can't be too low, or friction from tidal heating would become much more efficient that today, and the melt fraction would increase.

Finally, Khurana removed both the MHD and inductive response from the Galileo magnetometer data to look for evidence for an intrinsic magnetic field at Io, one that would be created by convection within Io's molten core.  They determined an upper boundary of 110 nT, making it a very weak magnetic field if it exists.

In order to better determine the melt fraction within this magma ocean and to determine its thickness, more data is needed in order to resolve fainter rotational harmonics from Jupiter's magnetosphere.  However, even just two flybys worth of data has been enough to provide a useful proof of concept for probing the interiors of bodies like Io using electromagnetic sounding.  By timing future encounters with Io to conicide with times where Io is not within the densest part of the Jupiter's plasma sheet, researchers would have an easier time picking out induced fields produced by weaker harmonics in Jupiter's magnetic field which maybe lost in the noise of the moon/plasma interaction.  If only there was a new spacecraft on its way to Io... another time perhaps.

Regardless, this is exciting news that Io's magma ocean has been independently confirmed by both eruption temperature data and models of Io's interior and by magnetic induction sounding.  It is always nice to see Io get some press after all these years since the New Horizons flyby in 2007.

Link: Evidence of a Global Magma Ocean in Io's Interior []
Link: Galileo Data Reveal Magma Ocean Under Jupiter Moon []
Link: PIA14116 - Io's "Sounding Signal" []

[I want to thank Emily Lakdawalla for providing a home for this post during Blogger's down time.  She posted this article on her Planetary Society Blog this morning.]

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jupiter at its closest opposition in nearly 50 years

Today at around 13:00 UTC, the Jupiter system will be in opposition, when the planet and its attendant moons are on the opposite side of the Earth's sky from the Sun.  This means that the planet will be visible as a brilliant star in the sky all night long, rise in the east at sunset and setting in the west at sunrise.  It also means that Earth is at its closest approach to Jupiter this year, with Jupiter only 591,560,000 kilometers (367,578,000 miles) away.  From the perspective of any amateur astronomers out there, this makes it a great time to take a look at Jupiter as it is nearly 50 seconds of arc in diameter in the night sky (though let's kill any "Jupiter hoax" in the bud, Jupiter's apparent diameter is still 1/36 of the apparent diameter of the Moon).  That is large enough to pick out Jupiter's cloud bands on even the most modest of telescopes.  Despite its great distant, its large size also makes it bright enough to easily pick out in the sky.

In addition to being the closest Earth will be to Jupiter all year, this is also the closest Earth has been to the giant planet since 1963.  That is because Jupiter is close to perihelion, its closest point in its orbit to the Sun.  As you can see in the graphic above, Jupiter's orbit is slightly eccentric, and right now it is closer to the Sun (and the Earth) than it would be on the opposite side of its orbit (near apohelion), which is slightly off the graphic that is centered on the Sun.  This makes this opposition a particularly good one to check out.  Don't forget though that even if you are unable to check out Jupiter tonight, it will still be an excellent target to view for the next couple of months, though it will become more and more a planet to view in the evening.

Many planetary astronomers have been taking advantage of the current opposition to take some great images of the giant planet and its moons, like the one at left.  I love the detail you can see in this image, taken on September 20 by astronomer Damian Peach.  The southern equatorial belt is still faded and there is no indication that it will reappear anytime soon.  A great place to check for more fresh images of Jupiter is the ALPO-Japan site, where astronomers from around the world post their latest and greatest shots. Another great site to check out is Cloudy Nights forum, which includes some great discussion of how these images are taken.

So please, definitely take this chance to look up at Jupiter!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Io Volcano of the Week: Isum

I apologize for my absence the last couple of weeks.  When you write a blog in your spare time, it exists at the pleasure of my other obligations, my health, and other demands on my spare time.  So when a busy period with work, a nasty cold, and Halo: Reach all hit in the same week, well, unfortunately this blog takes a bit of a back seat.  This week I am feeling much better, work is a bit quieter (wait, there is a Titan flyby on Friday, lalalalalalalalala, I can't hear you), and I have grown wary of Halo: Reach, so I can come back to my weekly series on Io's volcanoes.  Today, we are discussing Isum Patera, one of Io's more active volcanic centers and the likely source of the largest lava flow field on Io, Lei-Kung Fluctus.

First off, let's get the basics out of the way.  There really isn't a polite way to describe the shape of the volcanic depression that is Isum Patera; it looks like a sperm cell.  Isum is located at 29.82° North Latitude, 208.46° West Longitude. The head of the Isum "spermatozoa" is 62 kilometers (39 miles) in length and 43 kilometers (27 miles) in width.  The southern end of the patera appears to have a greater depth than the rest of the volcano, which can often be indicative of multiple collapses (if formed like terrestrial calderas) or sills embedded in different layers, however the low resolution of our best images of the region (1.3 kilometers or 0.8 miles per pixel), poor phase coverage, and the complex albedo patterns in the area precludes a clear analysis of the topography in this region.  A small mountain may lie along the eastern margin of Isum Patera, though this is difficult to confirm from available imagery.  The "tail" of Isum extends to the northeast from the northern end of Isum Patera.  The tail measures 184 kilometers (114 miles) long and 11 kilometers (7 miles) wide.  The floor of Isum Patera is generally dark green in color, similar to Chaac Patera, suggestive of chemically-altered basaltic lava, though a few spots along the tail of Isum Patera are much darker, more indicative of recent activity.

Isum lies at the center of a multi-colored region along the northern margin of Colchis Regio on Io's anti-Jupiter and trailing hemispheres.  The background color of the area is reddish-brown, typical for Io's plains at this latitude, but it might be enhanced by sulfur deposits from activity at Isum.  Green deposits dominate the terrain to the south and east of the head of Isum Patera, as well as on either side of its tail.  The margins of these deposits are digitate, or finger-like, which is more suggestive of a pyroclasic deposit that a lava flow field, which typically have lobate margins (see Lei-Kung Fluctus to the north of Isum in the image at left, for example).  The most intense of these dark pyroclastic deposits surround the tail of Isum Patera.  Their lack of chemical alteration that results from the interaction between sulfur and the iron in the pyroclastic material suggests they were laid down most recently.  More likely though, they are being covered by fresh material on a regular basis, as their dark albedo has been a constant since the Voyager encounters in 1979.

Volcanic activity has been detected at Isum Patera over a period of 31 years, since it was first observed in 1979 to as recently an adaptive optics observations at Keck Telescope on June 28, 2010.  The first detection of a thermal hotspot at Isum, indicative of on-going volcanic activity, came from the IRIS (Infrared Radiometer, Interferometer, and Spectrometer) instrument on Voyager 1.  It was detected again as a group of hotspots by Galileo's SSI camera when Io was in the shadow of Jupiter in June 1996, June 1997, and November 1997, every time the geometry was appropriate during one of the spacecraft's eclipse observations.  In each case two or three hotspots were detected: at the head of Isum Patera, in the tail, and in the southern portion of Lei-Kung Fluctus.  Galileo's Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) also detected a thermal hotspot at Isum Patera during every viewing opportunity during the Galileo Nominal Mission, between September 1996 and September 1997.  It was also seen at high resolution by NIMS in August 2001 (show at right) during a flyby of Io.  NIMS found a line of thermal emission within the middle portions of Isum's tail section.  The intensity of the emission was so great that the NIMS detectors saturated at most of the wavelengths the instrument looked at except the shortest (1.313 and 1.593 μm).  This suggests that both high-temperature volcanism and that large percentages of each pixel that covered the tail region were hot at the time of the observation.

Taken all together, what does the morphology of Isum Patera and its surrounding terrain and its history of persistent, high temperature volcanism with multiple hotspots tell us about the style of volcanic activity going on at Isum?  The distribution of dark pyroclastic material external to Isum and bright and dark patera within the tail region are most similar to Pele, a persistently and vigorously active lava lake.  The thermal emission history is also roughly similar.  In this case, the tail of Isum is a large lava lake whose crust is continuously overturned due to fresh material being brought into the lake from below.  This overturning, which can involve short lasting lava fountains, also permit the release of sulfurous gases and pyroclastic material.  This latter material can then be laid down as dark deposits on either side of Isum's tail.  The tail of Isum Patera may be a fissure that has opened up in Io's crust, allow magma to reach the surface and resupply the lava lake at Isum.  This magma could have also formed a sill at one end of the fissure, which was then later unroofed to form Isum Patera proper.  Another patera may also be located at the northeast end of the fissure, but it isn't clear.

However, some of the evidence can be deceiving.  The global scale images from Galileo that are available of this volcano reveal a curved dark line connecting the northern end of Isum Patera to the southern end of the massive Lei-Kung Fluctus, a large compound lava flow field more than 125,000 sq. km (48,000 sq. mi.) in size.  We know from SSI and PPR measurements from the Galileo spacecraft that at least the southern end of it was still active as of 2002.  A similar relationship between an active patera and a nearby active lava flow field, with a curved dark line between the two, has been noted at other Ionian volcanoes, most importantly at Amirani.  This suggests that Isum Patera may be the source of the largest lava flow field on Io.  In this case, the dark curved line is a lava tube that channels lava from its source in the tail of Isum Patera north to active flow lobes across Lei-Kung Fluctus.  I should point out that that given the huge extent of Lei-Kung, multiple sources can't be ruled out, and given the pattern of thermal emission seen by Galileo's Photopolarimeter-Radiometer (PPR), that's probably likely.

Today, we have looked at one of the most persistently active volcanoes on Io, Isum Patera.  Isum has a rather unique shape for an Ionian volcano.  Regardless, it is the site of rigorous but consistent activity that is suggestive of a large lava lake within the tail end of Isum Patera.  That doesn't preclude the possibility that Isum is also the source (or one of the sources anyway) of Lei-Kung Fluctus, which may act as a kind of release valve for the lava lake, where the overflow from the lake is deposited.

This article is making up for the one I intended to write last Monday so I still need to catch up.  Later this week we'll look at Maasaw Patera, a small volcano seen up close by Voyager 1.

Radebaugh, J. (2005). "Formation and Evolution of Paterae on Jupiter's Moon Io". Ph.D. Dissertation.  University of Arizona.
Lopes-Gautier, R.; et al. (1999). "Active Volcanism on Io: Global Distribution and Variations in Activity". Icarus 140: 243–264. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paper: Detection of a "Superbolide" on Jupiter

A paper was published today online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on the June 3 fireball on Jupiter.  The impact produced a bright flash that was seen all the way from Earth by two amateur astronomers: Christopher Go in Cebu, Philippines and Anthony Wesley in Murrumbateman, Australia.  We discussed the impact at the time as not one but two detections of this impact were confirmed.  This new paper is titled, "First Earth-based Detection of a Superbolide on Jupiter," by Ricardo Hueso, several co-authors include astronomers who observed the site using Hubble, Keck, and other large telescopes, and the two amateur astronomers who detected the impact.  The paper discusses the circumstances of the observations of this impact, measurements of the energy released and consequently the size of the impactor, and observations by Hubble and other telescopes of the site in the days following the June 3, 2010 impact.

Prior to June 3, 2010, only a few extraterrestrial impacts or meteors had been directly observed.  These included small flashes on the nightside of the Moon, a meteor streak across the Martian night sky by the rover Spirit, the faint flash that Voyager 1 saw in Jupiter's atmosphere, and the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts in 1994.  Since June 3, two flashes have been seen in Jupiter's atmosphere, the impact on June 3 that is the subject of this paper and another on August 20 that was observed by several astronomers in Japan.  These impacts produced a brief, bright 2-second flash in Jupiter's atmosphere.  Subsequent observations failed to find the kind of visible scars that had resulted from the larger SL-9 impacts in 1994 and an asteroid impact in 2009.  The discoveries this year by Wesley, Go, and the astronomers in Japan were aided by their use of webcam technology to record their observations of Jupiter.  They sum multiple frames from the videos they record to produce spectacular color images of Jupiter and other planetary targets by reducing the signal-to-noise ratio of their data.  These videos also allow for the detection of transient events like meteor fireballs that might otherwise go unnoticed or unconfirmed with additional observations.

In this new paper, Hueso et al. used the two videos taken by Wesley and Go to measure lightcurves of the June 3 fireball.  By measuring how bright the bolide was compared to the brightness of the area before and after the impact, and by calibrating the photometric response of the filters and camera systems used, the authors were able to estimate the amount of energy released by the meteor.  They estimated that the bolide released 1.0–4.0× 1015 Joules, or the equivalent of 0.25–1.0 megatons.  This is about 5-50 times less energy than the June 30, 1908 Tunguska airburst, which flattened 2,150 square kilometers (830 sq mi) of forest in Siberia. Bolides with the energy of the June 3 event occur ever 6–15 years on Earth.  Assuming an impact velocity of 60 kilometers (37 miles) per second and a density of 2000 kg per meter, Hueso estimated that the impactor had a mass of 500–2000 tons and was 8–13 meters (26–43 feet) across.  This fits nicely within a gap in our knowledge of Jovian impactors, as the July 2009 asteroid had a mass that was 105 times larger while the meteor that caused the flash seen by Voyager 1 was 105 times smaller.  According to the NASA press release, the August 20 impactor was on the same scale, though that event occurred a month after this paper was submitted.

Analysis of the bolide's optical flash reveals a number of characteristics that are similar to meteors here on Earth.  The lightcurve of the event, which was visible for 1.5 seconds, is asymmetric as the event slowly brightened for one second, produced a bright central flash, then quickly faded.  Analysis of both the blue filter data taken by Christopher Go and red filter data taken by Anthony Wesley also showed that the flash had three distinct peaks, again similar to bolides on Earth.

Anyway, the big result from this paper was the note that observations of Jovian bolides could help place constraints on the impactor (asteroids and comets) flux in the Jupiter system.  Using similar systems as Go and Wesley, Jovian events five times less luminous than the June 3 impact should be detectable as well as events that involving slightly larger impactors on Saturn.  Based on the impacts seen this year, it would appear that models predicting 30-100 collisions of this magnitude on Jupiter, like the dynamical model by Levison et al. 2000, maybe more accurate than those extrapolating from crater counts on the Galilean satellites.  However, as always, more data is need.  More than two data points will be needed to pin the impactor flux down.

For more details, definitely check out the original paper by Hueso et al. over on the European Southern Observatory website from their press release.

R. Hueso, A. Wesley, C. Go, S. Perez-Hoyos, M. H. Wong, L. N. Fletcher, A. Sanchez-Lavega, M. B. E. Boslough, I. de Pater, G. S. Orton, A. A. Simon-Miller, S. G. Djorgovski, M. L. Edwards, H. B. Hammel, J. T. Clarke, K. S. Noll, and P. A. Yanamandra-Fisher (2010). First Earth-based Detection of a Superbolide on Jupiter The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 721 (2) : 10.1088/2041-8205/721/2/L129

Monday, September 6, 2010

Io Volcano of the Week: Shamshu

Each week here on the Gish Bar Times, we profile one of Io's 400 active volcanoes as part of our volcano of the week series.  This week, we take a look at fairly dormant Shamshu Patera, a large patera, or volcanic depression, on Io's leading hemisphere.  If you haven't read it already, be sure to check out last week's volcano of the week, Tvashtar, which we covered in great depth over three articles (Part One - Part Two - Part Three).

As always, let's take care of the basics first about this volcano.  Shamshu Patera is located at 10.1° South Latitude, 63.0° West Longitude, or about 500 kilometers (310 miles) ESE of Hi'iaka Patera, a volcano of the week back in August.  The volcano measures 115 kilometers (72 miles) north-to-south and 107 kilometers (67 miles) east-to-west.  The height of the patera wall which marks the outer edge of the volcano is variable as the surrounding terrain is not constant, the result of debris flows coming off a mountain that abuts the northeastern margin of Shamshu Patera.  Shadow measurements along the northwestern wall of Shamshu show that it is 500 meters (1,640 feet) tall, however the lack of a shadow along portions of its western wall suggest that it maybe less than 50 meters (160 feet) tall in some areas.  Shamshu Patera was named at the IAU General Assembly in August 1997 after a pre-Islamic Arabian sun goddess.

Galileo's best images of Shamshu were taken on February 22, 2000 during its I27 encounter with Io.  I have reprojected the two images that covered Shamshu Patera into a two-frame mosaic, in a simple cylindrical projection with a scale of 350 meters (1,150 feet) per pixel.  This mosaic covers all of Shamshu Patera, right of center, as well as Shamshu Mons to the west and portions of two other mountains: one abutting Shamshu Patera to its northeast and another a little farther away to the southeast.  For a look of color in this region, see the map above as well as a global view from June 1997.

A few obvious features stand out about Shamshu Patera.  The volcano's floor is dominated by dark lava flows of varying albedos.  The different levels of brightness of its flows suggest that different eruptions produced new flow lobes that covered a different potion of its floor.  As the lava flows age, they cool and all more sulfur dioxide and sulfur to condense on their surfaces.  So as they age, the lava flows slowly brighten.  Despite how dark many of these lava flow lobes look, I can't see any evidence for surface changes at Shamshu during the Galileo mission, so either very little SO2 is deposited here, or they maybe persistently active.  More on that in a bit.  The shape of Shamshu's dark material, and the more central location in the patera, is more consistent with these resulting from lava flows rather than this volcano being a lava lake, like Pele or Loki.  About half of the patera of covered in material that has the same brightness as the surrounding Ionian plains and has a brighter orange color.  These areas likely haven't seen lava flows in recent times (> 100 years) or may have been coated in sulfur.

Just outside of the Shamshu's walls, a number of apparent bright flows are visible.  To the west of Shamshu, these bright deposits are correlated with the margins of the debris flow that came off the mountain to the northeast of the volcano.  That's right, I said margins, because layers are apparent within the edge of the debris flow.  The visibility of layers combined with the presence of bright material correlated with the scarps that mark the edge of these layers suggest that they are eroded by sulfur dioxide sapping.  The presence of layers in the debris flow (if that's what this is) would also mean that the landslide materials are remarkably well sorted with a mix of basalt/sulfur and sulfur dioxide layers.  A very bright flow is visible along the southern edge of Shamshu Patera, either the result of a sulfur flow, or, more likely, a silicate lava flow whose surface has been chemically altered.  Something odd is going on here because this flow is quite bright, so bright that from distant imaging, it almost looks like it should be the southern margin of Shamshu Patera.

As far as current volcanic activity, Shamshu was observed by the Galileo Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) as an active hotspot on only one occasion, during orbit C10 in September 1997.  The region was observed on several occasions before and since by Galileo and by New Horizons in 2007 and no additional activity was detected.

Next week, we will shift our focus from this fairly quiescent (at least in the present epoch) volcano to the more active Isum Patera on the opposite side of Io.

Bunte, M.; et al. (2010). "Geologic mapping of the Hi’iaka and Shamshu regions of Io". Icarus 207: 868–886. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Remains of the Week

Here is a wrap-up of outstanding issues from this week:
  • Ted Stryk requested that I include the C3 and C21 data covering Tvashtar to my comparison chart in order to provide a longer baseline from which to look at surface changes.  Ted, ask and ye shall receive:
C3ISTOPMAP01 - 11/06/199621ISALBEDO01 - 07/02/199925ISGIANTS01 - 11/26/1999
27ISTVASHT01 - 02/22/200032ISTVASHT01 - 10/16/2001Surface Changes at Tvashtar

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jupiter: Past and Present

This week, two of the best images of Jupiter that I've seen in a long time were published online.  One is a blast from the past, as Björn Jónsson released a mosaic he has been working on based on Voyager 1 data.  The other is simply the best image of Jupiter I have ever seen taken from by an astrophotographer.

First up is a 12-frame mosaic covering the Great Red Spot and surrounding cloud features. The original data was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft the day before its famous encounter with the Jupiter system, and Io in particular.  This mosaic was created by Björn Jónsson, who also created another 12-frame mosaic from Voyager 1 data a couple of weeks ago, covering a larger area of Jupiter's southern hemisphere.  His processing techniques bring out small-scale details in Jupiter's cloud features, accounts for Jupiter's rapid rotation, and preserves color contrasts without over-saturating the colors (that often plagued Voyager image processing that was performed at the time of the encounter).  This gentler approach to the data set allows Jónsson to bring out features such as shadows cast by high, convective clouds on the main cloud decks below.  While the Great Red Spot has certainly changed in the 31 years since these images were taken, these remain some of the best color images ever acquired of this giant storm, as Cassini was too far away to acquire high-resolution data, Galileo lacked the bandwidth, and New Horizons' high-resolution camera has only a single bandpass.

According to Jónsson, "the images I used were obtained on March 4,1979 at a distance of about 1.85 million km. The first image (C1635314.IMQ) was obtained at 07:08:36 and the last one (C1635400.IMQ) at 07:45:24. The resolution is roughly 18 km/pixel."  He used orange and violet filter data combined with a synthetic green filter.

Bringing us back to the present, Anthony Wesley, who is still out at Exmouth in Western Australia, was able to take a spectacular image of Jupiter on August 30.  The extraordinary quality of his data were the result of excellent viewing conditions.  What makes this image so remarkable is not so much its resolution, but its contrast.  For example, you can clearly make out a pattern of waves created by turbulence between the faded South Equatorial Belt and the South Tropical Zone to the west of the Great Red Spot.  Because both bands are bright, a high level of contrast is needed to pick out this kind of detail.  At the time this image was taken, the Great and Little Red Spots were reaching their closest approach, with only limited signs of interaction between the two orange storms.  Features are also visible within the Great Red Spot, again feat made possible by the incredible image contrast.  Not shown are two bright ovals in the North Equatorial Belt that merged on August 28.  Luckily, amateur astronomers were able to catch this merger as it happened, showing them get closer over the last few weeks before spinning around each other and merging.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Io Volcano of the Week: Tvashtar - Part Three

Over the last few days, we have focused on the geology and volcanic history of Tvashtar Paterae, a string of four volcanoes located within Io's high northern latitudes.  During the Galileo mission, Tvashtar was the site of several volcanic eruptions between November 1999 and October 2001, including a large, sulfur-rich plume that was seen by Cassini during its brief flyby in late December 2000.  Since the end of the Galileo mission in 2003, monitoring of active volcanism on Io was limited to intermittent data taken at ground-based telescopes like the European Southern Observatory in Chile, Keck II, and IRTF in Hawaii.  In addition, in late February 2007, the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft flew by Io from a distance of 2.26 million kilometers (1.4 million miles), allowing the cameras on-board to search for surface changes on the moon since it was last seen five years earlier.  Today, we will discuss the volcanic activity seen at Tvashtar since the end of the Galileo mission as what this volcanic history tells us about the variety of eruption styles exhibited by the volcanoes of Tvashtar and how their lavas are fed.

Don't forget to check out the previous two parts of our series on Tvashtar Paterae, if you haven't already done so!  Part One - Part Two.  This article is also part of our broader series where we examine one Ionian volcano each week.

The Tvashtari Reawakening
Throughout the 2000s, Io was imaged on numerous occasions using the adaptive optics system at the European Southern Observatory and Keck II telescopes.  These two large telescopes use adaptive optics to partially correct for atmospheric effects on data acquired at these telescopes.  Much of the data acquired of the Tvashtar region since of the end of the Galileo mission has been taken at the Keck II, 10-meter telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii.  Other facilities have been used, of course, to monitor Io's active volcanism, but they often use techniques that only work for Io's Jupiter-facing hemisphere, on the other side of the moon from Tvashtar.  After correcting for atmospheric effects, researchers using Keck II to observe Io can achieve a spatial resolution of 120 kilometers at near-infrared wavelengths.  Unfortunately, because time on this one telescope is very limited, only a few nights each year were available to observe Io, and when you combine the possibility of inclement weather at Mauna Kea and the fact that Tvashtar wasn't always on the visible hemisphere, you can tell that there weren't many opportunities to observe Tvashtar.  As far as I can tell from what has been published and what is online, between the [effective] end of the Galileo mission and the New Horizons flyby, the Keck group, which includes Franck Marchis, Imke de Pater, and Conor Laver, observed Tvashtar on: 12/22/2001, 12/26/2001, 03/08/2003, 05/29/2004, 04/17/2006, and 06/02/2006.  Between at least December 2001 and May 2004, Tvashtar was not seen in Keck data.  This suggests that it had become quiescent enough to not have any lava hot enough to produce detectable thermal emission.

However, the data from 2006 showed that Tvashtar had cut short its vacation and became more active.  Intense thermal hotspots were observed at Tvashtar during observing runs on April 17 and June 2, 2006. The emitted power seen on June 2, the higher resolution of the two runs, was 7.7 ± 0.9 × 1012 W, more than twice that seen at Pillan during its eruption in 1997, but still an order of magnitude less power than released at the most powerful volcanic eruption ever seen by humans, the Surt eruption in February 2001.  Laver, de Pater, and Marchis published their data a year later, finding a blackbody temperature of 1240 K for June 2 data.  This measurement was aided by the use of the then-new OSIRIS camera at Keck, which acquires high-spectral resolution data for each pixel, much like NIMS on Galileo, VIMS on Cassini, and CRISM on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Comparison between images like those at left with a Galileo/Voyager basemap revealed that the hotspot was centered at 59 ± 1 N, 121.5 ± 1W, placing Tvashtar C within the error box [see the map I posted yesterday for the letters used for the different volcanoes at Tvashtar].  The area covered by this basaltic lava was estimated at 57 km2 (14,100 acres), consistent with the size of Tvashtar C.  However, given the size of the hotspot and the resolution of the available data, it is not impossible that it was located a bit farther to the north, at Tvashtar B (the site of the November 1999 and December 2000 outbursts).

Operation: New Horizons
A few months before Tvashtar re-awakened, the New Horizons spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral, bound for the then-most distant planet in the Solar System, Pluto.  To get all the way out to that distant world in a timeframe that wasn't ridiculously long, the spacecraft was launched on the fastest trajectory of any interplanetary spacecraft, and even then it required a gravity assist at Jupiter to fine-tune its path and to boost its velocity to get out to Pluto in 2015.  This gravity assist at Jupiter took place on February 28, 2007, providing an opportunity to test the spacecraft's instruments on the many worlds of the Jupiter system.  More than 190 images were acquired during this encounter of Io by LORRI, a high-spatial resolution camera system with a single, broadband band pass.  Additional data was taken by MVIC, a lower-spatial resolution, 5-filter camera that covers visible and near-infrared wavelengths, and LEISA, a near-infrared mapping spectrometer.

A couple of weeks before New Horizons made it closest approach to Jupiter and Io, John Spencer and Kandis Lea Jessup observed Io using WFPC2 on the Hubble Space Telescope.  Images taken on February 14 and a week later on February 21 revealed a large plume over Tvashtar Paterae, not unlike the one seen by Cassini in December 2000.  While the plume was only seen in ultraviolet filter images, it was hoped that the plume would still be visible at high angles in New Horizons images.

When New Horizons started imaging on February 24, 2007, it turned out to be even better than that.  A large volcanic plume, 350 kilometers (220 miles) in height, was visible in early, low-phase angle images of Io.  The near-polar position of Tvashtar also meant that the plume was visible in nearly every image taken by New Horizons.  This data also revealed a new red ring deposit surrounding Tvashtar Paterae as a result of this plume.  In one case, repeated imaging over the course of eight minutes allowed John Spencer and his group to track clumps within the plume as they descended from the crest of the plume to the surface.  Their motions are consistent with sulfur and sulfur dioxide gas condensing at a shock front at the top of the plume (rather than dust particles rising with expanding gases, like at Prometheus), then descending as it flows down along the shock flow front.  The clumps likely form from electrostatic forces either generated by the interaction of plume particles (doubtful considering the spacing between individual grains) or from electrons brought in by Jupiter's magnetic field or the flux tube that connects Jupiter and Io.  The fact that the plume was so easily visible in LORRI and MVIC images suggests that plume contained more dust than other giant plumes like Pele's or the Tvashtar plume seen in 2000.

A thermal hot spot was also seen at Tvashtar by all three cameras on New Horizons (neglecting ALICE since it barely resolved Io).  The high-resolution data acquired by LORRI (~10-20 kilometers per pixel) allows the eruption site to be determined, corresponding with the southern half of Tvashtar B.  This was also the site of the December 2000 outburst that also produced a large volcanic plume and high thermal emission.  Using the LEISA spectrometer, temperatures around 1250 K were found, though the detection of a hotspot in daylight images with the visible light LORRI would suggest that higher temperature components are likely as part of an active lava fountain or curtain.

Eruption styles

The volcanic eruptions seen at Tvashtar since 1999 suggests that certain volcanoes experience specific eruption styles.  For example, Tvashtar B was the site of three, maybe four, large outburst eruptions over a period of a little over seven years.  Each of these eruptions involved lava fountains that generated intense thermal emission, even at visible wavelengths.  The 2006 eruption by itself generated about 7% of the total power output of all of Io's volcanoes put together.  That eruption may have occurred at the small Tvashtar C patera instead, but no prior eruption had been seen there except for some faint thermal emission seen by NIMS in August 2001.  Based on observations of the 1999 eruption, these eruptions don't last very long, less than three months, or transition from one type of eruption to another, as the lava fountaining phase transitions to open lava channels flowing out across the surface, and later to one dominated by insulated flows where lava is transported through lava tubes, limiting the visibility of hot lava to remote sensing.  Dark diffuse deposits surrounding Tvashtar B show these lava fountains also generated pyroclastic flows consisting of basaltic tephra.  This eruption style is reminiscent of large, explosive volcanic eruptions on Earth, like Laki in 1783.

At Tvashtar A, a large, dark whale-shaped volcanic region dominates.  It is uncertain based on the current data if this region is a large lava lake that is only intermittently active or is an insulated lava flow that is again, only occasionally active.  Only one unambiguous eruption was been detected at Tvashtar A in February 2000, with a pair of hot vents and a broad area of hot lava.  Same story for Tvashtar D, though there is no evidence it has been active in the recent past.  A region of dark basaltic lava had brightened between February 2000 and October 2001 showing that it was cool enough to allow sulfur and sulfur dioxide from the eruption at Tvashtar B to condense on it.

The awakening of Tvashtar since 1999 is likely the result of magma from a deep source at a depth of 30 kilometers (19 miles) that has become active again.  Its depth, in addition to help feed massive lava curtains, can also allow it to feed magma to multiple volcanoes.  That's why you can see one eruption at Tvashtar B and a few months later an eruption can get started up at Tvashtar A.  A similar situation was seen after the Thor eruption in August 2001.  Small volcanoes nearby, which had also never been seen as active before 2001, came out of dormancy at about the same time.  Kami-Nari experienced a phreato-magmatic eruption two years after the nearby Pillan eruption.  Io's heavily fractured lithosphere can facilitate the movement of magma from these deep reservoirs to either shallow magma reservoirs (likely the case for Tvashtar A and D) or directly to the surface as dikes during intense, outburst eruptions (the case for Tvashtar B, maybe C too).  The latter case can also transition to the former, as the dikes also feed sills below the volcano.  These sills can later grow into shallow magma reservoirs.  These provide a more consistent source of lava that can support persistent eruptions like Prometheus or Amirani.


Tvashtar is one of the most well imaged volcanoes on Io with three sequences at spatial scales between 183 and 315 meters (600-1,033 feet) per pixel.  This imaging permitted Galileo researchers to study an outburst eruption up-close and changes in the distribution of pyroclastic deposits and lava flows as a result of these intense eruptions.  The geology of this region is also intriguing, with a large plateau surrounding much of Tvashtar Paterae. This plateau is marked by evidence of sapping that has eroded the plateau back, in some cases forming canyons 40 kilometers (25 miles) long.

Next week's volcano of the week is Shamshu Patera, a volcano with not nearly as intense eruptions of Tvashtar.  Over the next month, we will also look at Isum, Maasaw, and Loki.  While Maasaw has been fairly quiet, both Isum and Loki have had very unique eruption styles that will be interesting to examine.

Leone, G.; L. Wilson. (2001). "Density structure of Io and the migration of magma through its lithosphere". Journal of Geophysical Research 106 (E12): 32,983–32,995. 
Spencer, J.; et al. (2007). "Io Volcanism Seen by New Horizons: A Major Eruption of the Tvashtar Volcano". Science 318 (5848): 240–243.
Laver, C.; et al. (2007). "Tvashtar awakening detected in April 2006 with OSIRIS at the W.M. Keck Observatory". Icarus 191: 749–754.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Io Volcano of the Week: Tvashtar - Part Two

This week, for our series covering one Ionian volcano each week, we are taking a look at a large volcanic region in Io's north polar region, Tvashtar Paterae. Yesterday for part one, we took a closer look at some of the images Galileo acquired and the geology of this region.  In summary, Tvashtar Paterae is a string of four volcanoes that show various signs of recent or current volcanic activity.  Three of these volcanic depressions, or paterae, are surrounded by a U-shaped mountain that has been modified by sulfur dioxide sapping, forming canyons that cut as deep as 40 kilometers (25 miles) into the plateau, and slumping.  Today, we focus on the intense volcanic activity observed at Tvashtar during the Galileo mission, mainly between November 1999 and October 2001.  Tomorrow, we will focus on more recent volcanism at Tvashtar, including the outburst that accompanied the New Horizons flyby in February 2007.  We will also summarize what the eruption style at Tvashtar tells about how its lavas are fed.

Before I continue, I should point out the image at above right.  I have labeled each of the four volcanoes at Tvashtar: A, B, C, and D.  I hope this reduces confusion over the next two articles about which volcano I am referring to.  So if I discuss an eruption at Tvashtar B, I am referring to the second volcano from the left.  Tvashtar A is the large, heart-shaped volcano with the whale-shaped lava flow/lake on the northwest end of Tvashtar Paterae.  Tvashtar C is the small patera with the faint lava flows that radiate out to its north and east.  Tvashtar D is the steep-sided, kidney-shaped patera with a dark lava flow covering its southern half on the southeastern end of Tvashtar Paterae.

Million-to-one shot, Doc.  Million-to-one.

It is hard to believe now after more than 10 years of observing various Tvashtar eruptions that prior to the outburst eruption of November 1999, a faint thermal hotspot, resulting from an excess of near-infrared energy being emitted by cooling lava flows, was seen at Tvashtar on only two occasions: by the Galileo SSI camera in April 1997 when the moon was in Jupiter's shadow and by Franck Marchis and his colleagues at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on September 30, 1999.  Over the period between the Voyager flybys in 1979 and the Galileo encounter with Io in November 1999, there doesn't appear to be any evidence for surface changes in and around Tvashtar Paterae.  There were a few patches of dark material seen in color data acquired in July 1999 that represent lava flows or lakes that were active before then, including two dark regions in Tvashtar A, a 25-kilometer (16-mile) long L-shaped flow in Tvashtar B, and a dark region covering the southern half of Tvashtar D.  So volcanism was a common geologic process at Tvashtar, but during the Galileo mission and perhaps during the 16 years leading up to it, the region had been largely dormant except for a pair of small, precursor eruptions.

Tvashtar's dormancy came to a crashing halt on November 26, 1999. In conjunction with the Galileo flyby of Io occurring that day, Bob Howell of the University of Wyoming used the NSFCAM at NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) in Hawaii to image Io a few hours after Galileo's encounter.  His images revealed a bright hotspot at Tvashtar, one of a rare class of intense outburst eruptions.  Images taken by Franck Marchis and his group at ESO and infrared photometry taken at the IRTF and the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) revealing only a faint hotspot at Tvashtar provide time constraints for the start of the eruption to sometime after November 24.  Howell estimates that such eruptions are occurring 2–4.5% of the time somewhere on Io.  Assuming that the most intense period of a volcanic eruption on Io last approximately two days before calming down, this suggests that approximately six such eruptions occur each year somewhere on Io.  At least two others were observed by ground-based observers in 1999: at Grian Patera in June and at either Tawhaki or Gish Bar in August.  So the chances that Galileo would be able to image an eruption such as these at high resolution without knowing where an eruption might occur, given the amount of coverage it acquired during an individual flyby (~2–4% of the surface), were pretty slim.

However, it just so happened that the Galileo imaging team had targeted Tvashtar for a two-frame mosaic during Galileo's I25 encounter on the day of the most intense period of the eruption.  More luck came when Galileo engineers were able to send up commands quickly enough to bring the spacecraft out of safe mode before the Tvashtar observation was to be taken.  The safing event also ensured that there would be enough downlink time to return all of the images in this mosaic, as the higher-priority, high-resolution observations were not taken.  These images were returned in early December and revealed a pair of over-exposed streaks along the northern margin of Tvashtar B.  These streaks resulted from bleeding in the CCD detector array in Galileo's SSI camera.  Based on their knowledge of how this type of camera overexposure occurs, Galileo imaging scientists were able to reconstruct the geometry of the exposed, hot lava that caused it.  Assuming that the fissure it originated from was roughly linear, they estimated that the bleeding area was caused by the intense thermal emission from a curtain of lava that reached 1.5 kilometers (5,000 feet) into the cold, Ionian sky.  This lava curtain, or line of lava fountains, was split into two main sections along the western and eastern halves of a 25-kilometer (16-mile) long fissure vent that runs along the northern edge of the floor of Tvashtar B.  Considering the global rate of outburst-class eruptions (~3-6 eruptions with a VEI > 4–5), it was incredibly fortuitous to observe at high resolution such a rare class of Ionian eruption.

To better understand how this bleeding occurs and how they were able to estimate the height of the lava curtain, let's use some *shock* horrible, over-used analogies. Imagine that each of the 640,000 pixels of the Charged-coupled detector (CCD) on Galileo's camera is like a bucket that you fill with photons, which are converted to electrical charge in the bucket.  The number of photons it takes to fill the bucket (pixel, or DN, value of 255 in an 8-bit camera) is defined by the observation's gain state (lower gain states mean fewer photons can fill the bucket, higher gain states require more), and the time you leave the bucket out to be filled is defined by the exposure time.  Filter selection and the sensitivity of the silicon the CCD was made out of constrains the types of photons (wavelengths) you allow in the bucket.  When the bucket is filled with so many photons that it overflows, or saturates, photons pour out into the buckets, or pixels, above and below it in the detector array.  How this overflow or bleeding develops was determine through calibration of the camera system.  For every bucket or pixel above the original over-exposed pixel that is itself overflowing, nine pixels are filled below it.  The longest column of bleeding consisted of 94 pixels, and taking into account the lava flow below the fissure, Milazzo et al. 2005 found that 11–16 of those pixels covered the lava curtain and flow.  Milazzo et al. estimated that the lava fountains on the western end of the fissure, least contaminated by the presence of a lava flow on the ground, were 360–900 meters (1,180–2,950 feet) tall.

Adding up all the electric charge caused by the intensity of photons from this eruptions and the exposure time of the image, they found an electron flux, corresponding to the rate at which photons filled those pixels, of between 0.94 and 1.8 × 108 e- pixel-1 s-1, which corresponds with lower limit on the brightness temperature of 13001350 K.  Similar brightness temperatures were detected at the western end of the fissure.  Spectra from the Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS), taken as the instrument rode along with the SSI mosaic observation, also covered a portion of the lava curtain, though much of their data over the eruption was also saturated.  Using a non-saturated pixel in Tvashtar B, Lopes et al. 2001 found a color temperature for the hot component of 1060 ± 60 K.  This was considered a lower limit since the unsaturated pixel used did not cover the hottest areas seen by SSI, other NIMS pixels that were saturated likely covered areas that were hotter, and the influence of reflected sunlight all cause measured temperatures to be underestimates.

Tvashtar: Master of its (thermal) domain

To follow up on the November 1999 observation of an outburst at Tvashtar, an eruption they could pin down to a specific date, Galileo observed Tvashtar during an encounter on February 22, 2000 (also known as I27) using images with a scale of 315 meters (1,033 feet) per pixel.  This observation used five images at different filters (violet, clear, 756 nm, 889 nm, and 968 nm) to measure lava temperatures more accurately than was possible in the I25 data and to determine the silicate composition of the lava by looking for an absorption band around 900 nm that is thought to be formed by orthopyroxene, a mineral found in basalt and other mafic igneous rocks.  A composite of these images is shown at right.  As you can see, the activity at Tvashtar B had largely shut down, leaving behind a dark lava flow that matches the appearance of an older flow seen before the eruption.  This is confirmed by color temperatures measured by NIMS of between 500 and 600 K, indicative of cooling silicate lava and/or very small exposures of fresh lava.

While B had quieted down, Tvashtar A had heated up.  Images acquired using filters that were sensitive to near-infrared light revealed glowing lava within much of a whale-shaped lava flow that runs along the southern and eastern end of Tvashtar A.  These thermal hotspots were not seen in the clear-filter data in November 1999.  Small glowing hotspots were also visible at the end of each of the flukes of the "whale" (note to John Spencer: I think it looks like a whale, and since this is my blog, I can say it looks like a whale, so there :-p ).  These hotspots are possibly the source of the lava that is seen glowing at a cooler temperature farther south and west.  Milazzo et al. 2005 measured a color temperature of at least 1220 K for these small hotspots.  Farther south and west, the dark region within Tvashtar A glowed to the point that it saturated the camera's detector in places in the 889 nm and 968 nm filter images.  This shows up as the red and orange area within the flows in the image above.  Milazzo found a mean temperature of the unsaturated pixels in this region to be approximately 1300 K, though higher temperatures or greater fractional areas (the more likely of the two) is possible in the saturated pixels.  Given the high temperature of this large region, a cooling lava flow is unlikely.  Milazzo suggests that this area maybe a lava flow that is fed by lava tubes and flows mostly below a cooled lava crust, in which case the thermal emission observes comes from sub-pixel skylights, or the area is one big lava lake that is only intermittently active.  I know Moses favored the lava lake hypothesis, but in reality, a mixture of eruption styles was likely.

Tvashtar remained active into late 2000 when Galileo and the passing Cassini spacecraft made joint observations Io and the Jovian system.  While Cassini observed Io from ten times farther away than Galileo, the increased wavelength coverage its camera provided allowed researchers to observe more gas-rich plumes, like Pele's, as well as detect a thermal hotspot at that volcano.  Using such images taken at ultraviolet wavelengths, a large volcanic plume with a height of 385 kilometers (240 miles) was observed over Tvashtar Paterae by the Cassini ISS.  This corresponds with a red oval plume deposit, seen in Galileo images taken on December 30, 2000, that encircles Tvashtar.  This deposit is quite similar to the one that surrounds the volcano Pele, and suggests that the plume was enriched with elemental sulfur enough to form an optically thick layer of S4 on the surface.  This plume accompanied yet another intense, outburst eruption, observed from Earth by Marchis et al. using the adaptive optics system at the 10-meter Keck II telescope in Hawaii.  Tvashtar remained active in observations from Keck taken on February 19, 2001, but it was less energetic than it was in December 2000.  The area and temperature reported by Marchis et al. 2002 was consistent with a cooling lava flow with only a moderate amount of new activity, relative to the intense, lava fountain-enhanced eruptions seen in November 1999 and December 2000.

During the next two Io flybys on August 6 and October 16, 2001, Galileo took advantage of several opportunities to image Tvashtar up-close in the wake of these intense eruptions.  The best of these two flybys for observing Tvashtar was the first (I31) as the spacecraft flew nearly directly over the volcano at an altitude of 300 kilometers (186 miles), within the plume seen by Cassini.  Two very-high-resolution observations were planned by Galileo SSI during the encounter: a 6-frame mosaic at 3-5 meters (10-16 feet) per pixel across the I25 vent region in Tvashtar B and its northern patera wall and a 6-frame, context mosaic at 50 meters (164 feet) per pixel that covered Tvashtar B and portions of Tvashtar Mensae to its north.  Unfortunately, due to a camera anomaly, these observations were lost.  Low-resolution global images at 19.6 kilometers (12.2 miles) per pixel showed that the plume deposit encircling Tvashtar that Galileo observed in December 2000 had faded quite a bit due a mix of relative inactivity and deposits from a fresh eruption at Thor to the southwest of Tvashtar.  NIMS was not affected by the SSI anomaly and took high quality data over Tvashtar during this encounter. This observation revealed the complex distribution of warm lava and pyroclasts across the Tvashtar portion.  The main red hotspot in the data shown at above left corresponds with the likely source for the December 2000 plume and lava fountains along the southwestern wall of Tvashtar B.  Two additional hotspots are visible at the lava flow that formed during the November 1999 eruption and along the northeastern margin of Tvashtar A.  Fainter flows were also detected from the whale-shaped flow in Tvashtar A and from Tvashtar C.

Galileo's final opportunity to image Tvashtar came on October 16, 2001 during its I32 flyby of Io.  This time Galileo flew over Io's south polar region, leaving only an opportunity to image Tvashtar at a more oblique angle later in the flyby.  The resulting two frame mosaic, at 200 meters (656 feet) per pixel, does reveal changes that occurred at Tvashtar as a result of the December 2000 volcanic eruption.  These include a fresh lava flow across portions of Tvashtar B, likely forming during the eruption seen by Cassini and fresh pyroclastic deposits to the east and southwest of that patera.  The extent of these dark deposits is consistent with the type of volatile-rich volcanic eruption that would also spawn a 400-kilometer-high, sulfur-rich, volcanic gas plume.  New dark material was also seen along the northeastern edge of Tvashtar A, the site of a NIMS hot spot in August 2001.  This suggest that volcanic activity had gotten going in the interval between the I27 and I32 SSI observations there as well.  The distribution of this fresh dark material with a new pyroclastic deposit as it appears to cover both the edge of the patera floor and the terraced wall above it, though the NIMS observations suggests that at least some lava flowed out from this vent.  Finally, the dark lava flows that covered the southern half of Tvashtar D had pretty much faded by October 2001.

The Tvashtar region endured a series of violent volcanic eruptions between November 1999 through at least December 2000, and Galileo and Cassini had front row seats to the action.  Galileo observations from the SSI camera and NIMS spectrometer indicated that volcanic activity in the region was waning throughout 2001, with much of the thermal emission coming from older, cooling lava flows, though some fresh activity was likely at Tvashtar B and in parts of Tvashtar A and C as late as August 2001.  However, by December 2001, ground-based observations from Keck showed that Tvashtar had quieted down to the point that it was no longer detectable using their instruments.  However, that was not all she wrote for Tvashtar.  As we will see tomorrow, there are third and fourth acts for Io's volcanoes as we examine observations of Tvashtar from ground-based telescopes and the New Horizons spacecraft after Galileo's mission ended.  Tomorrow, we will also discuss what the various eruption styles at Tvashtar tells us about how its lavas are fed.

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