Scientists discovered large volcanic waves in a molten lava lake known as Loki Patera on Jupiter's moon Io. This moon is volcanically active and this is the first time that a wave of lava has been captured using the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory.

Io is the fourth largest Jovian moon. The Loki Patera is basically an active volcanic crater that stretches roughly 127 miles across the satellite's surface.

The Discovery

Astronomers observed pictures clicked on March 8, 2015, when Jupiter's moon Europa passed directly in front of Io. This allowed scientists to isolate the heat signatures from Io's surface and also presented them with interesting insight regarding its volcanic activity.

"It shows not one, but two resurfacing waves sweeping around the patera. This is much more complex than what was previously thought," the study's co-author Ashley Davies, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said.

What Does The Finding Reveal?

Using the data gathered from the infrared image readings, astronomers were able to differentiate the temperatures on Io's surface. The western end of the Loki Patera was just 26 degrees Fahrenheit, while the temperatures rose to around 134 degrees Fahrenheit in the south eastern portion of the crater.

This observation led scientists to conclude that the lava in the crater had overturned and had done so in two waves. Each of these waves originated in the west and flowed toward the south eastern end at a pace of 3,300 feet each day.

Overturn is a phenomenon which occurs when the top layer of the lava cools and solidifies, which then drowns it into the molten lava. When the solid portion sinks, some of the liquid lava flows over the lake's surface. Astronomers said that this constant cycle of lava solidifying and sinking would explain the periodic dimming and brightening of the crater.

Astronomers also claimed that the lava on Loki Patera's western end was exposed to the surface for around 180 to 230 days prior to the pictures being taken. On the other hand, the lava on the south eastern side was exposed for roughly 75 days. This explained why the western region looked dimmer when compared to the south eastern end.

Scientists also confirmed that the velocity of the lava overturn was different in the various regions. This was most likely due to the lava's composition and the dissolved gases in the magma's bubbles.

The results of the study have been published in the May 10 issue of the journal Nature.

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