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May 23, 2011
Each year, the moon of Jupiter ejected about 100 times more lava to the surface of the Earth's volcanoes.
A new evaluation of data from the NASA Galileo probe suggests that all this activity is being fueled by a huge ocean of magma beneath the crust of Io.
Researchers reported in the journal Science that this reservoir is extremely hot, probably about 50 kilometers thick.
And that figure is only a minimum. It could be much thicker, said the study's lead author, Krishan Khurana, who is affiliated with the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at UCLA in the U.S..
"When scientists began to look to observe the images of Io from Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft in the 70's, the moon looked very strange," he told the BBC.
"Immediately, the scientists wondered many things and one of the questions was: 'Why volcanoes are present throughout the area?" Well, it's because there is a giant aquifer magma just under the bark. That's what our study is telling us. "
Io's volcanic activity is determined by its parent planet, Jupiter. The huge mass of huge gas planet causes the moon tides that push and pull his body, causing the melting of the rocks.
However, the distribution of the volcanoes of Io is very different from Earth. They are everywhere, while in Earth's volcanoes tend to be within the boundaries of tectonic plates, huge slabs of cold rock that cover the surface of our planet.
The magnetometer readings from NASA's Galileo probe showed that the moon was dramatically distort the magnetic field of Jupiter, but still was not clear what was happening within Io to produce that effect.
After several years of work on the problem and identify the solution, the scientists concluded that it all comes down to the nature of the rock on the moon and how it behaves when it melts.
"Data were available for about seven or eight years. However, at that time could not explain what we were seeing," said Khurana.
"Further experiments in physics of minerals found that when ultramafic rocks, which are rich in magnesium and iron melt, its conductivity is triggered by orders of magnitude. And it is the high conductivity that can create the kind of 'fingerprint 'we've seen. Therefore, physics of minerals needed to update our data, "he added.
The tests showed that the tracks detected by Galileo are consistent with a rock as the lherzolites, an igneous rock rich in magnesium and iron silicates. This type of rock can be found, for example in Scandinavia.
Io was then presented as a world that resembles a much larger body size.
Its magma ocean layer is at least 50 kilometers thick, and probably represents at least 10% of the lunar mantle by volume. Its temperature probably exceeds the 1,200 C º.
This aquifer lies beneath the crust, about 50 kilometers deep. The mantle - the middle layer inside the moon, probably extends from 700 to 800 kilometers. What about downtown? Gravity measurements suggest that iron and possibly liquids - much like Earth.
"The moon in size is only about one-fortieth the size of the Earth, mass is only one sixtieth" said Khurana.
"And yet because of the enormous amount of heat generated by the tides that Jupiter rises in the small moon, its internal structure is very similar to Earth or a planet is much larger than tectonic in it," he said.