This pair of images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft captures a dynamic eruption at Tvashtar Catena, a chain of volcanic bowls on Jupiter's moon Io. They show a change in the location of hot lava over a period of a few months in 1999 and early 2000.
The image on the left uses data obtained on Nov. 26 and July 3, 1999, at resolutions of 183 meters (600 feet) and 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) per pixel, respectively. The red and yellow lava flow itself is an illustration based upon imaging data.
The image on the right is a composite using a five-color observation made on Feb. 22, 2000, at 315 meters (1030 feet) per pixel. These are among the most fortuitous observations made by Galileo because this style of volcanism is too unpredictable and short-lived to plan to photograph. Short-lived bursts of volcanic activity on Io had been previously detected from Earth-based observations, but interpreting the style of volcanic activity from those lower-resolution views was highly speculative.
These Galileo observations confirm hypotheses that the initial, intense thermal output comes from active lava fountains. Galileo's high-resolution observations of volcanic activity on Io have also confirmed other hypotheses based on earlier, low-resolution data. These include interpretations of slowly spreading lava flows at Prometheus and Amirani and an active lava lake at Pele. These tests of earlier hypotheses increase scientists' confidence in interpreting volcanic activity seen in low-resolution remote sensing data of Earth as well as Io. However, these data are still of insufficient resolution to adequately test the more quantitative models that have been applied to volcanic eruptions on Earth and Io.
These images also show other geologic features on Io, such as the scalloped margins of the plateau to the northeast of the active lavas. These margins appear to have formed by sapping, a process usually associated with springs of water. Liquid sulfur dioxide might be the fluid responsible for sapping on Io. A better understanding of sapping on Io will influence how scientists interpret similar features on Mars(where the viability of carbon dioxide or water as the sapping fluid remains controversial).
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Galileo mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Images and data received from Galileo are posted on the Galileo mission home page at http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/galileo/. Background information and educational context for the images can be found at http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/galileo/gallery/index.cfm.
Images were produced by Brown University, Providence, R.I.,http://www.planetary.brown.edu/, DLR (German Aerospace Center) Berlin,http://www.dlr.de/pf/, and University of Arizona, Tempe, http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/.