Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LPSC Io Poster Session Tonight

The Io poster session at the Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference is tonight! Unfortunately, I'm not there, I'm here in Tucson. I am sure most you are not there either, but if you are, you have no excuse after visiting a blog about Io for not visiting the lonely Io posters, more than likely shoved in some deep dark corner, where most people would fear to tread. LPSC this year is at a new venue so I am not sure how the layout is, but all the years I was at LPSC, Io and the other Galileans were off along the far wall of the gymnasium the poster session was held in.

For those who need a refresher on what is being presented this year, I posted summaries of the abstracts last month:
The IVO poster will presented during the next poster session on Thursday.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cosmos on Hulu and Io from Australia

The 1980 television series, Cosmos, is now available on Hulu in its entirety. The series, hosted by Carl Sagan, was a landmark series for its time, introducing many Americans and people around the world to the wonders of astronomy and planetary science. The videos are only available to people in the US, though I am sure there are proxy servers for non-US people to get around that, but you may have an easier time getting series off of iTunes. To be honest though, Cosmos never influenced me as greatly as it has many other people. In fact, I never even saw an episode of it until I watched the Jupiter/Saturn episode, Travelers' Tales yesterday. What I found most interesting was the part where Sagan is sitting down with Larry Soderblom, discussing dark spots on Europa and whether certain features were impact craters or potential geyser sites. Nice to see Sagan break character a bit ;-)

The shows are updated at the end with some info on results from the 1980s, though some of the graphics have definitely been updated as recently as the late 1990s (the Galileo images of Europa kinda give that away). Still definitely worth checking out at least as a reminder of how far this field has come in the last 30 years.

In completely unrelated news, astronomers in the Philippines and Australia continue to turn their telescopes to Jupiter now that the planet is moving further and further from the Sun from Earth's perspective. Anthony Wesley captured a great view on March 21 of Jupiter with Io transiting across the giant planet. Io is the faint orange spot to the left of the dark spot near the center of Jupiter's disk. Io's shadow is the dark spot further to the left.

Tip of the hat to Phil Plait.

Link: Cosmos on Hulu [www.hulu.com]

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Galilean Satellites from STEREO

One of the two STEREO spacecraft, the one trailing Earth, captured this view of a coronal mass ejection from the Sun as well as Jupiter and its four Galilean satellites. Io is the one closest to Jupiter on its left. The planet and its four largest moons crossed the coronagraph's field of view over a period of 30 hours on March 15-16, 2009. In addition to this still image, the team also released a movie of images acquired by STEREO-A's coronagraph. This instrument is designed to look at the Sun's outer atmosphere, looking for changes in the charged particles in the corona, such as from coronal mass ejections like the one that occurred during this observation.

While the caption states that, "No one has been able to observe Jupiter and its moons for some time," that has been changing over the last few days. Anthony Wesley captured a great view of the giant planet yesterday, observing the hemisphere that includes the Great Red Spot. Like Red Spot Jr. (Oval BA), the Great Red Spot seems to be quite pale in color compared to other reddish cloud bands. Compare with images acquired the day before of Oval BA.

Link: STEREO - Jupiter and Galilean moons observed [stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mission Madness

Okay, I've been telling myself that I wouldn't post about this, then I found the trash talking thread, and finally I got my blood up. The NASA EDGE podcast team have been hosting a spaceflight version of March Madness called Mission Madness. Similar to the college basketball March Madness, you can fill out a bracket consisting initially of 64 human and robotic missions with 32 match-ups. You can select which mission you think is better in those 32, first-round matchups. Every few days, the next round begins with match-ups being filled by the winners of previous round, until you reach the final four missions in early April. The voting has begun for the first round of matchups, so don't forget to vote.

There has been quite a bit of ranting about missions that were excluded from the bracket in the thread I linked to above. The only two missions I would have liked to see included but weren't would be Galileo and STS-61 (the first Hubble servicing mission). There is also a relative lack of Earth science missions. This could have been resolved, IMHO, by replacing the unflown missions like Ares-1, ORION, and JWST with some of these "missing missions".

Not to influence you too much, but my final four is Apollo 11, Vikings I & II, MER, and Voyager 1 & 2, with Apollo 11 beating Voyager 1 & 2 in the championship.

So far in the first round of voting, the votes are following the bracket I filled out with a few exceptions I want to make known (so you can vote for my picks, thus making me look like a genius). First off, SPB (a balloon mission) is currently leading over the Mars Rovers? WTF?!? I call shenanigans! A few closer matchups that aren't going my way at the moment: LCROSS is leading over MRO, NB-52 is leading over L.P. 1, Bell X-1 is leading over THEMIS, and SR-71 is leading over Friendship 7.

For the record, my college basketball final four is Kansas, Memphis, Pittsburgh, and Gonzaga, with Memphis beating Pittsburgh in the championship game. Of course, as I write this, my winner, Memphis, is currently losing in their first round game to Cal State-Northridge... I used to be good at picking these. I was in the top 20 in the Facebook bracket tournament going into last year's championship game, but I ended up picking the loser of that game. And to people in North Carolina, I'm sorry I picked Gonzaga over you guys. I actually met and talked with Roy Williams, UNC's coach, back when he was the head coach at KU. He was a frequent visitor to my high school when he was recruiting one of the players on my school's team.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption in Tonga

While Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai would be a great name for a volcano on Io, I am actually referring to the undersea volcano in the South Pacific island nation of Tonga. This seamount erupted yesterday producing a large steam and pyroclastic cloud reaching at least 15,000 feet into the air. The BBC has a video captured on a boat a few miles from the eruption site. The video clearly makes out the brighter steam and darker pyroclastic clouds. The large size of the eruption column is leading to disruption of Air New Zealand flights.

You can follow news about this eruption over at the Volcanism Blog, a great site to learn more about volcanic activity on Earth.

The closest analog to this eruption on Io would be an explosive eruption west of Zal Patera during the summer of 1997. Almost no lava was deposited during the eruption (within the limits of resolution and the annoying noise hits of our best images of the area), but there is evidence for an SO2 dust plume (analogous with the bright steam cloud seen at this Tongan eruption) and pyroclastics that produced a dark deposit that radiates out from the central vent (analogous to the dark cloud seen in the video linked above). Akin to sulfur dioxide plumes on Io, the steam cloud is produced as heat from the eruption boils off the water above the source vent. On Io, this "boiling off" normally occurs when lava flows over SO2 frost on the surface. The pyroclastic eruption at "At'am" would act remarkably like the pyroclastic flow here (though it would look less like a cloud, I would presume). There would be an initial ballistic phase as the largest clasts get sorted out. After a few kilometers, the pyroclastic column, consisting mostly of ash with low volatile contents, would collapse and move rapidly laterally along the surface. As can be seen at "At'am", the rapid speed of the pyroclastic surge allows it to climb up shallow slopes even on the 2 kilometer tall plateau, North Zal Montes.

Pyroclastic flows on Io were modeled by Smythe et al. back in 2001.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cool New Images of Jupiter and Saturn

With Saturn high in the sky nowadays and Jupiter finally starting to rise out of the muck in the morning sky here on Earth, some great astrophotography is being taken of these two planets. The big news of day was the release of a series of images acquired last month by the Hubble Space Telescope of a quadruple moon transit at Saturn. In the image at right, Enceladus, Dione, Titan, and Mimas (from left to right) can be seen cross the disk of Saturn. What is great about this shot is that it makes it clear just how large Titan is compared to these other moons of Saturn and just how much Saturn dwarfs Titan. Other images taken in this series show the shadow of Titan on the cloudtops of Saturn. Finally, the Hubble team released a video of these images put together. Very sweet stuff.

Saturn isn't the only large planet being looked at. Jupiter, as reported yesterday, is still pretty low in the sky in the morning, but that isn't stopping Christopher Go and Tomio Akutsu, both in the Philippines, from imaging it. From images taken on March 16, there are hints that the reddish coloration of Oval BA, nicknamed the Red Spot Jr., maybe fading, perhaps reverting back to its whitish appearance it had before 2006. Both observations seem to suggest that Jupiter seems less stormy at the moment. Mike Salway and Anthony Wesley also captured a few nice views of Jupiter on March 17.

In other news, the presentations from last week's OPAG meeting are still not online. Brian, the fruit bat who decided to take a nap on the space shuttle Discovery's external tank, didn't make it. Let us have a moment of silence for the little guy. Though wait, if he is in the big orange grove in the sky, what is he doing still tweeting? Finally, the San Diego Union-Tribune has an article on Europa and Titan and their chances for life.

YouTube Videos of Galileo Flybys of Io

A couple of weeks ago, I uploaded a video showing an animation of Voyager 1's encounter with Io. I have gone ahead and uploaded animations showing the seven flybys Galileo made of Io between 1995 and 2002. These were created using Celestia, a 3D space simulation program that supports user-created add-ons. This is great because it is easy to modify the program to suit your needs, whether you want to create science fiction/fantasy worlds in a galaxy far, far away or model spaceflight events closer to home. I've modified my installed version so that it uses NAIF Spice kernels to produce accurate position information for all the planets and satellites in the solar system and many space probes, such as Galileo, Cassini, both Voyagers, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MESSENGER, Dawn, and Pioneer 10 and 11. I have also modified it to include a high-resolution basemaps for Io and many other planets and moons. Here are the links to those videos on Youtube, plus an embedded version of the I33 video below.

In a few other quick notes, the presentations from last week's OPAG meeting still haven't been posted online, in case you are waiting for me to discuss them. As soon as they are, I will let you know here.

Astrophotography of Jupiter and its moons certainly have died down in recent months due to January's conjunction, when Jupiter was on the other side of the Sun from Earth, making it difficult to observe because Jupiter's been so close to the Sun. However, over the last few weeks, Jupiter has been reaching higher and higher in the sky, making it more visible in the morning sky. Tomio Akutsu in the Philippines captured a great view of Jupiter on March 7, also showing that Io is in fact, still in existence (in case there were any skeptics out there ;-)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cannibalistic Jupiter

Recently I wrote a quick note on some research conducted by Robin Canup and William Ward that suggested that Jupiter "ate" many of the early generations of satellites that formed around it. After some digging, I found the paper these press articles were based on. The two researchers from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado wrote a chapter in the upcoming Europa book to be published by the University of Arizona press titled, "The Origin of Europa and the Galilean Satellites." A pre-print is available at arXiv.org.

For the last few years, Canup and Ward have modeled the formation of Jupiter and the Galilean satellites. They believe that Jupiter and other gas giants like Saturn for more like stars than terrestrial worlds like Earth. Jupiter formed in a mini-nebula within the fledgling solar nebular 4.5 billion years. This mini-nebula began to spin and slowly collapsed, forming an inner core that would become Jupiter and a disk of gas and dust around its equator. Moons accreted from this disk of material, much like the terrestrial planets accreted in the inner solar system.

However, the two had a problem with their model. To form an appropriately sized Jupiter, they required an initial disk of material that contained around 10% of Jupiter's mass. This was reasonable, except the Galilean satellites contain around 2% of Jupiter's mass. Where did the other 8% go? They resolve this by modeling the formation of earlier generations of moons, which formed to a maximum size of Ganymede before it stopped accreting dust. However, these moons would slowly be dragged down toward newborn Jupiter by gas drag within the Jovian nebula. Eventually, these moons would be dragged all the way into Jupiter. The amount of material in the disk could have supported the formation of 20 large satellites, Europa to Ganymede-sized, mostly consisting of rock since the early disk would be too hot to allow for the condensation of water. Eventually, the disk would cool down, allowing water to condense. At the same time, gas inflow from the solar nebula had also stopped. This helps clear out much of the gas in the disk, putting a stop to the inward migration of the satellites at that time. The satellites that survived this cannibalistic stage are the moons we know today as the Galilean moons.

They also note a few other implications of their gas accretion model. For example, their late formation of the Galilean satellites, about 5 million years after the formation of calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions, is consistent with water-rich Ganymede and Callisto, water-glazed Europa, and nearly water-free Io. Their long formation times, 100,000 to 1 million years as the result of slower material inflow from the solar nebula, would also support the accretion of water-rich material on the outer moons and most of the accreted material would have come in the form of small impactors, in the range of 1 km across. Finally, the migration of Jupiter satellites, particularly Ganymede, during their formation could have led to the development of the Laplace resonance that has led to tidal heating on Io and Europa.

It should be noted that this process may have also occurred at Saturn, though only one large moon seems to have survived, with many smaller moons left behind as well. So yes, Goya's painting, "Saturn Devouring his Son" is appropriate here.

Link: Origin of Europa and the Galilean Satellites [arxiv.org]

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Carnival of Space #94 @ Out of the Cradle

Ken Murphy over the blog Out of the Cradle is hosting this week's Carnival of Space, the 94th Edition. This week, learn more about HiRISE images of Mars' moon Deimos, the recently launched Kepler mission, and plans in the 1960s for planetary exploration in the 1970s. Well worth checking out!

Link: The 94th Carnival of Space - Out of the Cradle [www.outofthecradle.net]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Naked Science: Journey to Jupiter Follow-up

So yesterday, I reminded all of you to check out the National Geographic Channel show Naked Science, which had a new episode last night titled, "Journey to Jupiter". The show covered results from the Galileo mission at Jupiter and how unanswered questions from that mission have led to a host of new missions planned for the giant planet.

Overall, I thought the show was quite decent, if a bit uneven in its coverage. I thought the first half of the show covering the planet itself was excellent. The show presented several mysteries regarding Jupiter, its origins, and how it fits in with the formation and evolution of the solar system. These include the Galileo probe results which have led to the theory that Jupiter has migrated inward from the outer solar system, Shoemaker-Levy 9 observations that provided evidence for the amount of water in Jupiter's atmosphere (which the Galileo probe failed to obtain because it flew through an abnormal dry hotspot), and cloud tracking results which show how large storms evolve and persist on Jupiter. The episode also showed how lingering questions from the areas of interest have led to the development of Juno, a mission scheduled for launch in 2011. Again, the show's producers did a great job with Jupiter, in my opinion. However, since I am less familiar with gas planet research in general, I may not be in the best position to judge that parts effectiveness.

The second half of the episode was dedicated to Jupiter's four largest moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. During this part, I felt the show faultered a bit. No, I am not criticising it for only dedicating 4 or 5 minutes, at best, to Io, and 15 minutes to Europa. I accept the fact that Europa may generate more interest from shows such as this, and I am not going to criticise them for the editorial choice on how much to time to give each moon. However, I felt that the style of coverage, presenting a few new results from Galileo and looking at remaining mysteries, didn't carry over as well from the Jupiter half of the show to the satellite part, particularly the Io section. What do we learn instead from the Io section: Io has active volcanism (a surprise!) and that it is powered by tidal flexing of the moon's interior. Okay, but what about the results from Galileo? Surely, there were new results from Galileo or other aspects of Io that could be touched on briefly. Sulfur vs. silcates? High-temperature volcanism? Maybe the radiation effects on Galileo? Nothing. Io has active volcanism and it is powered by tidal flexing. Ganymede and Callisto faired a bit better, with a brief discussion of the results regarding their interiors and Ganymede's magnetic field.

The last 15 minutes of the show were dedicated to Europa. Fine, okay, I think I can live if Europa gets her moment in the Sun. I think the biggest issue with the section may not be the producers' fault, the show was clearly completed well before the flagship downselection, but the show did spend some time discussing what a Europa orbiter would accomplish. I am a bit envious that Bob P. got to play around with huge blocks of ice (while two guys in the background tried to pretend there wasn't a film crew in their lab, from experience, 10 bucks they are pretending to work so they get to be in the shot). In my turn at being interviewed for on of these types of programs, all I got to do was point at a map or point at a computer screen (or be one of those people in the background pretending to work). Anyways, the Europa section does do a decent job in presenting the geological finding of Galileo, then it delves into astrobiology. Say it with me children, "Water DOES NOT EQUAL life." Now, keep saying that until you get it. I swear, it is like nails to a chalkboard whenever someone implies that. True, they did touch on the fact that Europa might have accessible raw materials that would be needed for native life. So I give them kudos for that (they even mentioned CO2, good on them). Now with that being said, the end of the show does present us with a potential future mission to Europa, a sub-surface submarine, by looking at a prototype being used on Earth. It presents the issues with such a mission, such as the need for autonomy and the heat source required for the sub to tunnel its way down through Europa's ice shell. Still, it would have been better, I think, for the show to stick with missions that are in the reasonable near-future.

This new episode of Naked Science covering Jupiter and its moons clearly focused on the planet itself and Europa. Jovian science was well-presented from this outsiders perspective, but more care could have been done to present some of the on-going mysteries about the satellites, particularly Io, where I felt too much time was spent explaining just the basics of tidal heating.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Journey to Jupiter

Don't forget that tonight's new episode of Naked Science on the National Geographic Channel will cover the Galileo mission to Jupiter. The show starts at 8pm EDT (or 7pm MST, at least on HD channel). The webpage has a 3 minute long trailer for the show, so you can check that out now.

As far as other news goes, there is a press release about how Jupiter may have eaten its young and that the Galilean satellites we see today are the survivors of this early, cannibalistic period. Also, Emily Lakdawalla has a post on her blog discussing New Horizons images of the Neptune and Triton taken late last year.

Link: Naked Science -Journey to Jupiter [channel.nationalgeographic.com]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Final Look Back at Voyager 1 at Io

Over the last few days, we've been taking a look back at the Voyager 1 encounter with Jupiter and its volcanic moon, Io, that took place 30 years ago on March 5, 1979. For those of you who are just joining us, here are some quick links to those posts:
For this post, I want to wrap up our coverage of the anniversary of the Voyager 1 flyby by look at how our view or model of how Io works changed as a result of the flyby and how that model compares to our perspective now.

Before Voyager's close-up look in 1979, not much was known about Io. We knew from spectroscopic studies of Io and its environment that Io had sulfur on its surface and that is was surrounded by a cloud of sodium. From the earlier Pioneer 10 and 11 encounters, we also knew that Io was centered in one of Jupiter's radiation belt. This led to the hypothesis that the sodium cloud surrounding Io was the result of sputtering of an evaporite deposit, rich in sulfur and halite (also known as table salt), on Io's surface. In terms of its interior and geology, Io was expected to have an ancient surface similar to Earth's own moon considering that both worlds have a similar size and mass.

This model obviously changed as a result of the Voyager 1 flyby. Instead of an ancient surface, Voyager found a geologically active world with volcanism and mountains produced through tectonic motion. The images and spectra returned by the spacecraft provide brilliant confirmation for the model by Stan Peale, Patrick Cassen, and R. T. Reynolds that Io's interior was heated by the varying tidal pull of Jupiter on Io. This variation in the tidal pull is the result of the forced eccentricity in Io's orbit induced by the moon's orbital resonance with two other Galilean satellites of Jupiter, Europa and Ganymede. Over the next few years following the Voyager flybys, two competing models of Io's interior and geology developed. Simplifying things a bit, the two models basically attempted to explain what the composition of Io's lavas were.

In one model, all the volcanism on Io could be explained with sulfur. In this model, Io was overlain with a thick layer of sulfur and sulfur dioxide. The top layer of this sulfur would be solid, but it liquefied the further down you went, until you had a nearly global sulfur ocean underlying a solid sulfur crust. Imagine Europa with its water ice shell and water ocean underneath, but with sulfur instead of water. The multi-colored flows Voyager observed were explained as being the result of sulfur and its various allotropes flowing out across the surface; the dark volcanic pits were filled with boiling, pitch black sulfur. Underlying this sulfur shell was the silicate lithosphere. This lithosphere had to be active itself, as the mountains on Io had to consist primarily of silicates in order to sustain the heights seen by Voyager. In these cases, the mountains consist of parts of the silicate crust poking up above the sulfur shell. Silicate volcanism was thought possible beneath this shell, as silicate magma reaches up to the level of the sulfur-silicate interface before forming a sill and heating the sulfur above it. This model of primarily sulfur volcanism was supported not only by Io's multi-colored surface, but also by the temperatures seen at Io's volcanoes by the IRIS instrument on Voyager.

In the other model of Io's interior and volcanism, Io's crust consisted primarily of silicate rock with only a thin veneer of sulfur and sulfur dioxide. In this case, Io's lavas consisted of silicate rock, like volcanism on Earth (with some exceptions), with a sulfur enrichment. At the time of the Voyager flybys, this model was supported by the topographic structures visible on Io, which were not thought to be supportable by a crust that consisted primarily of sulfur. However, the thermal data to back it up didn't really come until 1986 when an eruption on Io's leading hemisphere was observed from Earth, and the blackbody radiation temperatures of the eruption were too high to be explained by sulfur. Other eruptions, including an eruption at Surt in June 1979, also had temperatures too high to be explained by sulfur. The lower temperatures seen by Voyager could be explained by the fact the IRIS instrument's wavelength band-passes were in the mid-infrared, wavelengths too long to sense the high-temperatures consistent with silicate volcanism. The discoveries made by Galileo in the 1990s and early 2000s seemed to put the nail in the coffin for the sulfur volcanism model as high-temperature volcanism (> 1000 K) was observed at many active volcanoes on Io and absorption bands consistent with orthopyroxene were found in some of Io's pyroclastic deposits.

The current consensus view of Io's volcanism, interior, and geology is in many ways seems like a merging of these two models. This consensus view was published in 2004 by Keszthelyi et al.. In this model, Io's crust consists primarily of silicate rock. As depth decreases, or as your approach the surface from Io's interior, the amount of sulfur in the lithosphere increases. This sulfur and sulfur dioxide is constantly being brought back up the surface, or recycled, by silicate volcanism. However, as silicates rise through the lithosphere from deeper magma reservoirs, they stall out as they become neutrally buoyant and form sills. These sills heat up the sulfur near it, which then melt, forming a depression on the surface and leading to sulfur volcanism (and some silicate volcanism as well). Over time, this depression deepens, allowing more silicates to reach the surface until the sill is unroofed and the bottom of the depression, or patera, becomes a silicate lava lake. I posted a more detailed explanation of this process last week.

The Voyager encounter with Io in March 1979 greatly increased our knowledge of Io as well as the rest of Jupiter system. It changed how we view the worlds of the outer solar system, making us scientists always expect the unexpected when we look at these worlds, even with an orbital mission like Cassini, where we have found active cryovolcanism on Enceladus and a dynamic climate system on Titan capable of producing large lakes at that moon's pole and great sand dune seas and canyonland terrain in the equatorial region.

It has been a pleasure looking back at the Voyager encounter with all of you. I hope you all enjoyed the mosaics I have put together over the last few days :) And thanks to Emily Lakdawalla for the shout-out on her blog.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Taking another look at Voyager 1 images of Io

Today I got finished processing three additional mosaics from Voyager 1 images. The first two use narrow-angle camera images acquired shortly before the encounter, and the other uses wide-angle camera images during the spacecraft's closest approach to Io on March 5, 1979.

The first mosaic uses images acquired as support imaging for the Photopolarimeter Subsystem on Voyager. The PPS acquired a north-south scan across the center of the disk to measure information about Io's surface texture and bond albedo. Click here to see the ISS-NA mosaic at full-resolution. This mosaic runs from Acala Fluctus, across the flows that radiate out from Ra Patera, Kava Patera, and ends on the northern flanks of Euboea Montes. This mosaic cross high-sun terrain, so albedo markings are emphasized over topographic shading, though some mountainous features, such as Iopolis Planum and Euboea Montes, both in the bottom frame, can be seen. This mosaic has a resolution of 610 meters per pixel.

The second mosaic uses images that were part of a high-resolution mosaic design over the south polar region of Io. Click here to see this ISS-NA mosaic at full-resolution The terrain here is much closer to the terminator, so more topographic features are clearly visible. For example, several tall mountains are visible along the terminator, the line between day and night, including Haemus Montes at bottom left. Some of the low plateaus visible, such as Echo Mensa (the rounded rectangular mesa at center bottom) and the western part of Nemea Planum (to the northeast of Echo) appear eroded, potentially from sapping of Sulfur dioxide, though no evidence of recent sapping, like bright material along the base of the low cliffs at these features, is visible. Such evidence can be more clearly seen at the eastern end of Nemea and in a fracture to the west of Echo.

The final mosaic consists of two, violet-filter wide-angle camera images acquired during Voyager 1's closest approach to Io. Click here to see this ISS-WA mosaic at full-resolution. These two images show similar terrain to the other mosaics I've posted here in the last few days, but what makes these images exciting to me is what you can see along the limb on the left side of the mosaic. This region shows feature that I had thought had only been seen at much lower resolution. These images have a pixel scale of 2 km/pixel, whereas the previous best I could find has a resolution of around 9.5 km/pixel. So obviously, this appears to be a significant improvement. Among the features visible is the Masubi flow field (at lower left, also see the cropped image at the top of this post), a semi-persistent volcanic plume source. This feature is notorious for having plumes that jump around along the length of the flow field as well as having plume with multiple source vents (such as during the Voyager 1 and New Horizons encounters). In this mosaic, you can see a plume deposit around the main vent, a V-shaped flow field (not quite sure where the source patera, but I have an idea). There appears to be a disconnect between the flow to the south and the main V-shaped field, not sure how real that is, or if the flow connecting the two was quite narrow, akin to the connection between the Amirani and Maui flows fields. These WACs seem to close the notorious gap between the Voyager and Galileo high-resolution coverage that existed between 40 and 60 West, at least south of the equator, which I am excited to see.

Tomorrow, I will close out my coverage of the 30th Anniversary of the Voyager 1 flyby by looking at the post-Voyager perspective on Io and how it compares to our view now.

Quick Notes

Just a few quick notes:
  • The Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) meeting is going on today and tomorrow in Bethesda, Maryland (see the Agenda). I am not there, but the presentations should be online later this week or next, and I will discuss them here when they do. One of the presentations to be given tomorrow covers the Io Volcano Observer.
  • The National Geographic Channel will have an episode of Naked Science titled "Journey to Jupiter" covering Galileo and the new Europa/Jupiter System Mission on Thursday, March 12 at 8pm EDT. Might be worth checking out.
  • Van Kane has a great post on his blog on the new Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

30th Anniversary of the Discovery of Volcanism on Io

Imagine you were a scientist on the Voyager Imaging Team 30 years ago today. Only days before, Voyager 1 had passed through the Jovian system, returning thousands of images of Jupiter and its moons. The Galilean moons Voyager revealed had strange and fascinating vistas: cratered Callisto, grooved Ganymede, streaked Europa. Perhaps the strangest of these four worlds was Io. It was clear from the images that were coming down in the days following Voyager's close pass that Io was a world that was constant renewing its surface. Instead of impact craters that were prevalent on most worlds, Io had none and was covered in apparent volcanic features. Given the lack of impact features on the surface, Io was likely even active today.

On Friday, March 8, 1979 at 13:28 UTC, Voyager 1 pointed its narrow-angle camera at Io, 4.5 million kilometers away, one last time. Thirty-eight minutes later, the image was received on Earth. The image was taken to help establish the position of Voyager in space. By comparing the position of Io in the image with known background stars also found in the image, the navigation team could determine if additional maneuvers were needed to keep the spacecraft on track for an encounter with Saturn in November 1980. This task was assigned to Linda Morabito, the cognizant engineer of the Optical Navigation Imaging Processing System at JPL. Among the first things she saw when looking at this image, just as you might have when you saw the same image above, was the crescent-shaped feature just off the limb of Io. Over the next day, she and other Voyager navigation engineers and scientists worked to eliminate the possibilities of what this feature could be. When the crescent, now thought of as a cloud was shown to be assocated with a possible volcanic feature (now known as Pele), this seemed to nail this down as a volcanic plume. There was even another plume (now known as Loki) just beyond the terminator, catching the first bits of morning sunlight.

A more detailed account than I can ever give of the discovery of volcanism on Io can be found on the Planetary Society website and was told by none other than Linda Morabito Kelly.

The discovery of active volcanism on Io was announced at a press conference on Monday, March 12, 1979. By then more plumes had been found as earlier images of Io were re-examined and areas of high thermal emission were being found by Voyager's Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer (IRIS) . For example, in the mosaic I posted earlier today (and if you haven't checked that out, I couldn't recommend to do so more!), two plumes are visible along the limb: Masubi and Pele. I've created a special version showing these plumes in the mosaic. Masubi is at lower left and Pele is at right. These two plumes show the two main types of plumes on Io. Masubi is a smaller, dust plume, also known as a Prometheus-type plume. It has an umbrella-like shape, with a dense central column (in this case TWO central columns) and a bright shock canopy. Pele is the archtype of the Pele-type or gas plumes. In this case, there is no central, dense, eruption column and the shock canopy has a filamentary structure.

I guess for me, the discovery of active volcanism on Io was perhaps more significant for me personally than the Apollo landings, or any of the other major events in the history of spaceflight. While I was not around for either event (I hate to make some of you feel any older, but yes, I was still 4.5 years away when Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter), that discovery, along with the Galileo and Cassini missions were most significant for me to decide to work in this field. Seriously, I could have been in law school right now. Thanks Voyager 1!

Later today, I will be working on a few more mosaics from Voyager 1, though these won't be anywhere nearly as big as the one I posted earlier today. Seriously, have you checked it out yet‽ One will be a reprocessing of the PPS support imaging strip and the other will be a higher resolution mosaic over Io's south polar region. I am trying to stick using the Voyager imaging teams different mosaic designs when deciding which images to use for these mosaics. That's why Loki is missing in the Southern Hemisphere mosaic; it wasn't covered in that mosaic design. It WAS covered in the lower resolution, 4-color northern hemisphere mosaic, but that one has a lot more missing images and smeared images, so it will take me a bit longer to figure out how to parse that one down.

And have you checked out that mosaic I did earlier ;)

Link: Discovery of Io's Volcanoes [members.fortunecity.com]

Voyager 1 Southern Hemisphere Mosaic

It only took a year but I finally finished the huge, southern hemisphere mosaic of Io using images acquired by Voyager 1 in March 1979.

This mosaic uses 33 images acquired by the narrow-angle camera on-board Voyager 1 shortly before the spacecraft's encounter with the volcanic moon. Click on the image at right to embiggen, but click here if you want to see the full resolution version (warning: 5 MB PNG file). This mosaic is in an orthographic map projection with a pixel scale of 730 m/pixel. The central latitude and longitude of the mosaic is 18.23 South, 317.64 West, though the images in this mosaic generally cover only the southern hemisphere. For details on what features are covered by this mosaic, check out the labeled version I have created.

This mosaic reveals a number of volcanic features: patera, flow fields, tholi, plumes (though I still need to finish the version that highlights them, the Masubi and Pele plumes are visible in some of the limb images used to make this mosaic), in various shapes and sizes. Paterae in the south polar region tend to be larger than those nearer to the equator, suggestive of differences in lithospheric properties and magma source regions in Io's mantle.

I will talke a bit more about this mosaic later today, and talk a little about the discovery of volcanism on Io that took place 30 years ago today. But for now, I need sleep.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Carnival of Space #93 @ The Planetary Society Blog

Emily Lakdawalla's is hosting this week's Carnival of Space over at her Planetary Society Blog. Definitely give that a gander to read about this week in the space blogosphere. Among the topics this week include the impending launch of the Kepler telescope, designed to look for transiting exoplanets.

Kepler launches at 10:48pm EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. I will be watching it live on NASA TV though I know a couple people who will be there live.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

More on the 30th Anniversary of the Voyager 1 Encounter

I found a copy online of the NASA publication, "Voyage to Jupiter," by David Morrison and Jane Samz. This publication provides some great insights into the Voyager encounters with Jupiter in 1979, the science investigations the two spacecraft performed and the new knowledge they obtained. The document also has a day-by-day account of the activities of the spacecraft and the science and engineering teams for both Voyager encounters. Below is an excerpt covering the Io encounter by Voyager 1, 30 years ago today. Don't forget to check out the post immediately below this one for some of my own thoughts and a nice animation of the encounter with Io. Later this week, I will post more about the discovery of active volcanism on Io, which occurred a few days after the flyby, and on how scientists viewed Io and its geology following the encounter.
Monday, March 5. Many celebrities, including the Governor of California, spent the night at JPL to witness the historical occasion. In Washington, D.C., as special TV monitor was set up in the White House for the President and his family.

Shortly before closest approach to Jupiter, Voyager began its intensive observations of Io. Much of this information, taken while the Australian station was tracking the spacecraft, was recorded on Voyager's onboard tape-recorder for playback later that day. But even before the results of that imaging were known, Larry Soderblom was calling Io "one of the most spectacular bodies in the solar system." As more and more vivid photos of Io appeared on the monitors, members of hte Imaging Team in the Blue Room buzzed with excitement. "This is incredible." "The element of suprised is coming up in every one of these frames." "I knew it would be wild from what we saw on approach but to anticipate anything like this would have required some sort of heavenly perspective. I think this incredible."

At 7:35 a.m. Voyager was scheduled to pass through the flux tube of Io, the region in which tremendous electric currents were calculated to be flowing back and forth between the satellite and Jupiter. Norm Ness suggested, after examining the magnetometer data, that Voyager skirted the edge of the flux tube, and that the current in the tube was about one million amps. As the flux tube results were received, champagne bottles began to pop in the particles and fields sciences offices, in celebration of the successful passage through the inner magnetosphere. Meanwhile, at 7:47 a.m., closest approach to Io occured, at a range of only 22 000 kilometers. Voyager was 25 000 times closer to this satellite than were the watchers on Earth.

At 8 a.m. a special press conference was held to mark the successful Jupiter flyby. Noel Hinners, Associate Administrator for Space Science and the highest ranking NASA official present, congratulaed all those who made the Voyager Mission a success. The encounter was the "culmination of a fantastic amount of dedication and effort. The result is a spectacular feat of technology and a beginning of a new era of science in the solar system. Just watching the data come in has been fantastic. I had a fear that things on the satellites were going to look like the lunar highlands. Nature wins again. If we're going to see exploration of this nature occurring in the 1980s and 1990s we must continue to expound the results of what we're finding here, the role of exploration in the history of our country, what it means to us as a vigorous national society."

At the regular 11 a.m. press briefing, Brad Smith glowed. "We're recovering from what I would call the most exciting, the most fascinating, what may ultimately prove to be the most scientifically rewarding mission in the unmanned space program. The Io pictures this morning were truly spectacular and the atmosphere up in the imaging area was punctuated by whoops of joy or amazement or both." The new color photo of Io taken the night before was released, showing strange surface features in tones of yellow, orange, and white. The image defied description; the Imaging Team used terms like "grotesque," "diseased," "gross," "bizarre." Smith introduced the picture with the comment, "Io looks better than a lot of pizzas I've seen." Larry Soderblom added, "Well, you may recall [that we] told you yesterday that when we flew by we'd figure all of this out. I hope you didn't believe it."

One thing was certain: There were no impact craters on Io. Unless the satellites of Jupiter had somehow been shielded from meteoric impacts that cratered objects such as the Moon, Mars, and Mercury, the absence of craters must indicate the presence of erosion or of internal processes that destroy or cover up craters. Io did not look like a dead planet. Imaging Team member Hal Masursky, looking at the "pizza picture, estimated that the surface of Io must be no more than 100 million years old -- that is, some agent must have erased impact craters during the last 100 million years. This interpretation depended on how often cratering impacts occur on Io. No one could be sure that there had been any interplanetary debris in the Jovian system to impact the surfaces of the satellites. Perhaps none of them would be cratered. The forthcoming flybys of Ganymede and Callisto would soon provide this information.

As encounter day drew to a close, celebrations took place all over JPL. For many, however, the excitement was tempered by exhaustion. After 48 hours of intense activity, sleep was imperative for some. But the close approach to Callisto was still to come, as was an examination of the data already received.
Link: Voyage to Jupiter [eric.ed.gov]

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30th Anniversary of the Voyager 1 flyby of Io

30 years ago today, the Voyager 1 spacecraft encountered the first planet in the Voyager programs decade-long epoch tour of the outer solar system. While Pioneer 10 and 11 were the first space probes to reach Jupiter, proving passage through the asteroid belt was possible, Voyager 1 opened up the worlds of Jupiter system to humanity, turning these moons from mere points of light into fully-realized worlds.

Voyager 1 flew within 19,000 km of Io, making it the best resolved world during the spacecraft's passage through the Jupiter system. The world Voyager 1's cameras revealed was unlike anything planetary scientists. Instead of being dead with numerous impact craters, like our own moon, they found a world with strange pits, flow terrain, an incredible diversity of albedo markings, and mountains 10-20 km tall. Global mosaics revealed a dark, horseshoe shaped pit, an albedo marking shaped like a hoof-print (in keeping with the myth of Io, a lover of Zeus who was transformed into a cow to protect her from Zeus's wife, Hera).

Animation of the Voyager 1 Flyby of Io on March 5, 1979

Voyager 1's highest-resolution images covered the southern pro-jovian hemisphere of Io, an area not seen again at high resolution (Galileo's best images of the region were on the order of 10-20 km/pixel). You can see my attempt to piece together Voyager 1's highest resolution mosaic, though I can't seem to find where I put the original project files... These images revealed numerous large, volcanic pits, low scarps that cross Io's generally flat terrain, and large mountains. But not a single impact crater, unlike any other solid-body world in the solar system imaged to that point.

Recent volcanic activity on Io would explain the lack of impact craters on its surface. Within a short time after a crater forms, the feature is filled in with lava and pyroclastic material. An explanation for these amazing images came in the form of a paper published in the journal Science only three days before the Voyager encounter by Stan Peale, Patrick Cassen, and R. T. Reynolds. They suggested that the varying tidal pull on Io by Jupiter, created by the orbital resonances with the other Galilean satellites, would heat up and partially melt Io's interior. This internal heat would then be released in the form of volcanic activity.

This only left the question of whether Io was still active.

Voyager 1 provided a wealth of information about not just Io, but the other moons in the Jovian system as well as Jupiter itself. Images revealed three additional small moons of Jupiter (later named Metis, Adrastea, and Thebe) orbiting near Amalthea, as well as narrow ring of material confirming a prediction made by Acuña and Ness 1976 based on Pioneer charged particle data. Voyager 1's cameras also revealed in detail the cratered and grooved surface of Ganymede and the ancient surface of Callisto. The spacecraft never came very close to Europa and could only hint at the amazing surface features seen by Voyager 2 four months later and Galileo 16 years later. Voyager imaging scientists did note a lack of obvious impact features as well as dark, linear streaks criss-crossing Europa's surface.

The Voyager 1 flyby of the Jupiter system 30 years ago today truly opened up the moons of the outer planets to humanity. The robotic explorer transformed the four Galilean satellites from points of light in the sky to worlds with geology and amazing vistas. The discoveries made at Io, of a world of abundant active volcanism, were perhaps the most amazing of a truly incredible encounter. Later this week, we'll look back at the discovery of active volcanism on Io and on the post-Voyager view of Io's interior and how it compares to our view now.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Formation of Paterae on Io

Last week I talked about a paper in press in the journal Icarus on the Formation of Io's Mountains. More specifically, the paper described the sorts of stresses that could result in the formation of thrust faults that are the leading theory for how individual chunks of Io's crust are pushed upward to form some of the tallest mountains in the solar system. This week I thought I would talk about how the other major landform type on Io is formed: paterae.

Much of the following discussion is developed from two sources: Keszthelyi et al. 2004, "A post-Galileo view of Io's interior," and Ashley Davies's 2007 book, "Volcanism on Io: A Comparison with Earth."

The term patera is the name given by the International Astronomical Union for "irregular craters, or complex ones with scalloped edges." Patera (plural=paterae) comes from the latin for "saucer." On most planetary bodies, the term patera is generally used for volcanic pits, like Garland Patera on Venus, Leviathan Patera on Triton, or Uranius Patera on Mars. On Io, this is also the convention used. Radebaugh et al. 2001 counted and measured more than 400 paterae across Io's surface from Voyager and Galileo imagery and found that they average 41 km in diameter, larger than similar volcanic depressions on Earth, Venus, and Mars. While these features bare a resemblance to terrestrial calderas, there are issues with their formation being similar. Calderas on Earth (and other planets like Mars) are formed when freshly-emptied magma chamber collapses after an eruption and the ground above fills the void, leaving a depression on the surface. In the case of mafic-rich volcanoes, like Kilauea, a caldera forms from subsidence as a result of flows mostly outside the volcanic pit. For Io, Keszthelyi et al. point out that there is no evidence for major voluminous eruptions with flows outside of patera with enough lava to explain the scale of many of the patera on Io. Plus, the composition of magma on Io is not likely to be silicic like those found in eruptions that form large, Yellowstone-type terrestrial calderas. Tectonic extension may result in the formation of some of Io's patera, like Hi'iaka and Monan, but this is not thought to be the dominant process.

Keszthelyi et al. 2004 put forward another hypothesis for the formation of patera. This model is the result of the authors' examination of the post-Galileo view of Io's lithosphere and high-resolution images of paterae from Galileo and Voyager. In the post-Galileo view of Io's lithosphere, the upper layers are cold, composed of interbedded sulfur and sulfur dioxide ice and frost mixed with cooled silicate lava flows and pyroclastic deposits. The temperature increases dramatically as you near the base of the lithosphere, but for much of its thickness, it is fairly close to the surface temperature. This is the result of the heat-pipe advection theory that Io's internal heat is release almost entirely by volcanic activity, first proposed by O'Reilly and Davies 1981 and more extensively discussed in my post about Kirchoff et al. 2009. So there is very little convection of heat from the asthenosphere in the lithosphere. Anyways, what this means is that a crust with interbedded sulfur and silicate rich materials is actually remarkably stable and can form topography at least 10 km in height. The lower you get in the lithosphere, the more volatiles are driven out, and the more silicate-rich it becomes. This allows magma to ascend through this volatile-poor region. When it reaches the volatile-rich upper lithosphere, the magma eventually can find it difficult to ascend further as it becomes neutrally buoyant. The magma can then stall out and form a sill, an intrusive magma body that forms parallel to the pre-existing crustal layers.

Looking at high-resolution images of Io, particularly between Chaac and Camaxtli Paterae on the satellite's anti-jovian hemisphere, Keszthelyi et al. 2004 came up with a model for how these sills can develop into paterae. As magma continues to be injected into the forming sill, the lithosphere nearby becomes heated, particularly the volatiles in the immediate vicinity. Over a period of hundreds to a few tens of thousands of years, these volatiles (like sulfur and sulfur dioxide) melt and rise to the surface, forming sulfurous flows (along with some silicate magma that may also reach the surface), as well as move laterally through the sub-surface away from the growing sill. This maybe what is going on now at Sobo Fluctus. This movement of volatiles causes a partial collapse above the sill, forming a shallow patera similar to Grannos Patera. As the sill grows and more sulfur melts, the patera gets deeper, down to level of the partially molten S/SO2 near the sill. This causes the kind of sulfur flows you see at Balder Patera or Ababinili Patera. More basaltic magma reach the patera floor as well, forming silicate flows on the floor of the patera, like at Camaxtli Patera.

Eventually, more and more ground is "eaten" away above the sill so that it becomes "unroofed", with the top of the sill becoming the new floor of the patera. So now you see things like silicate lava lakes, for example, like you see at Loki Patera or Tupan Patera (see top of post). "Islands" in these lava lake paterae may be the result of sufficient cooling on the roof of the sill during its formation to create a thick crust near its middle (or at least the part right over the conduit at the bottom of the sill). As paterae remain active, they not only become deeper, until they reach the level of the underlying sill, but they also grow laterally as the silicate flows on the floor and the growth of the sill undermine the sulfur-rich walls of the patera. Keszthelyi et al. suggests that this would explain steep wall as this would remain an active process as long as the volcano itself remains active. We've even seen some paterae degrade mountains in this process, like at Gish Bar Patera, which is being "eaten" by Gish Bar Patera and Estan Patera.

The patera formation model presented in Keszthelyi et al. 2004 seems to explain not only the general morphology of paterae on Io, but also variations in this morphology from volcano to volcano, which seem to be the result of magma supply and age. The model also explains why no new paterae have formed since the beginning of spacecraft observations in 1979 as their formation is a much more gradual process than the 30-year time period of observations.

Link: A post-Galileo view of Io's interior [dx.doi.org]

Monday, March 2, 2009

Notes from the Surface of the Sun

Sorry for the lack of updates the last couple of days. The air conditioner at home is STILL out, though I am told it should be back up and running tomorrow. Unfortunately, while many of you out east are getting lovely, lovely snow, it was 92°F here. This kinda limits my mental functioning during non-work hours (by work hours, I mean, times when it isn't broiling hot in here).

So while I wait for them to get back to working on my A/C, here is a neat video about the EJSM. Io gets a short mention at 2:33 in with a simulation of the I4 flyby (with a plume at Malik...).