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Video: Turn Left at the Lava Field

20 March 2012 11:31 am
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Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Look out, Google Earth. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have produced the most detailed map yet of Io, revealing Jupiter's large moon in all its colorful, volcano-ravaged glory. The resulting high-resolution images and video, released yesterday and cobbled together using data gathered by the Voyager missions of the late 1970s and the Galileo probe that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003, depict mountains that range up to 17 kilometers high, active volcanoes, dark lava fields, and bright plains smothered by sulfur deposits that have rained down from plumes that spew hundreds of kilometers high. The only thing missing is impact craters, because Io has none. In that sense, the researchers say, the moon is unique: Its craters are constantly erased by the solar system's most relentless volcanic activity—25 times more frequent than that seen on Earth—which adds an estimated 1 centimeter of fresh material to Io's surface each year. Volcanic craters are plentiful, however, with more than 425 of them occupying about 2.5% of the moon's surface. In the latter half of the new video, and for the benefit of planetary scientists everywhere, the USGS team has superimposed a layout of the satellite's geological formations on the visual map. But if you're planning a trip to Io, you better leave soon: Thanks to the moon's volatile eruptions, this map won't be accurate for long.

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