Friday, May 12, 2017

Loki – not Thor’s adopted brother, the lava lake on Io

It sounds almost SciFi, but it isn’t. Io is the most volcanically active of the known solar system. If I were writing a SciFi novel I might describe it as follows;

‘Swells of lava extending farther than the eye could see - across the wide expanse of Loki Patera, a massive lake on this moon Io. The brightness caused by the lava seeming to shift from the glowing eyes of a predator to during the times the crust solidifies, the darkness of impending doom.’

A study was completed by researchers at UCBerkeley which reviewed images taken from Io on March 8th, 2015 just as Jupiter’s icy moon Europa passed in front of its volcanic one. This allowed the astronomers to capture differences in heat radiating from the volcanoes on Io because of the small amount of sunlight reflected by the surface of Europa in infrared wavelengths.

The size of the lake? 220 kilometers in diameter (126 miles). And its named after Thor’s adoptive brother, or the Norse god.


I will never cease to be amazed at the sort of things the scientists can advise us of. Such as the temperature. Lake Loki Patera varies from 270 degrees kelvin (that’s 26 in Fahrenheit) to 330 kelvins (134 in Fahrenheit). When taking notice of these temperatures, the next discovery was the overturn. What is Overturn? Overturn is something and thickens, falling into the liquid beneath it. This in turn causes a wave of hot magma to rise up and spread across the surface of the lake. So periodically the temperature varies as does the light given off by the lava lake.

Unfortunately the teaching moment ends there and all must wait until the next alignment with Europa. Of course that isn’t until 2021.

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