Meet the snow worlds | The Planetary Society


Is there something Io doesn’t have? Along with being dotted with a whole lot of volcanoes, the Jovian moon can also be a winter wonderland of sulfur dioxide snowflakes. On Earth, sulfur dioxide is a gaseous pollutant that may come from burning fossil fuels.

On Io, although, chaos is type of the norm. Its snow, volcanoes and basic calamity look like fascinatingly interconnected.

In 2001, NASA’s Galileo probe sampled an huge plume stemming from a beforehand unknown volcano close to the moon’s North Pole. The plume, which blasted materials about 500 kilometers (311 miles) into house, was the tallest recorded on Io at the moment.

This was, most fortuitously, an accident. Galileo’s crew wasn’t planning to skirt round this specific plume; in truth, they have been hoping to review a very completely different volcano referred to as Tvashtar, which regrettably didn’t erupt because the spacecraft flew by. However on this arbitrary geyser, Galileo’s onboard plasma science instrument picked up one thing surprising: sulfur dioxide frost particles, coming from vents inside the volcano and precipitating down. This “snow” has since been detected many instances.

On paper, the concept of a “snowcano” doesn’t make sense, as a result of volcanoes are sizzling, and snow is chilly. Whereas each these issues are undeniably true, Io’s ambiance is paper-thin and chilly. When the moon’s volcano flings gasoline — notably, sulfur dioxide — into house, it freezes from a liquid right into a stable within the plume. That snowcano frost will then fall again to Io’s floor, which is a frigid -130 levels Celsius (-202 levels Fahrenheit).

Certain, Io’s snow is a bit completely different from what we’ve on Earth, however so is the moon’s complete chemical make-up.

“Within the case of Io, the gases are dominated by sulfur and oxygen in varied combos, with some chlorine and sodium and a whiff of potassium,” mentioned Laszlo Kestay, a planetary volcanologist on the US Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Middle. “Among the ensuing molecules are colourful, making the yellow, crimson, orange, white, and brown patterns you see on the floor of Io.”

Truthful warning: “Should you visited Io, you’d in all probability need to keep away from tasting any of snow, not simply the yellow stuff,” Kestay mentioned.

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