The Loki Patera is one of the most fascinating parts of Io, Jupiter’s extremely volcanic moon. It is a vast lake of lava spreading for many miles across Io’s surface. Scientists have been studying it closely since Voyager 1 made a pass in 1979.
A Flowing Cycle on the Loki Patera
Using the infrared detectors on the Observatory, scientists determined that there is a temperature fluctuation of about 58 degrees Celsius from the western end of the lake to its southeastern corner. They also noticed a periodic brightness in the Loki Patera. This determined them to take a closer look at the lake as the alignment took place. The event occurred on March 8, 2015.
Based on their observations, the scientists theorize that molten magma from deep below the lake’s surface rises to the top as it expands. There, the brighter-glowing magma gradually cools as it flows across. Eventually, it condenses and sinks to the bottom once again. This is not entirely unlike some of the cycles within our own planet’s seas and oceans.
Ashley Davies from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that this research offers the “first useful map” of the entire Loki Patera. It shows that there is not one, but two waves of resurfacing lava sweeping across the lake. Which shows that this system is much more complex than initially believed.
These two enormous lava waves appear to travel at a rate of about one kilometer per day, though they began at different times. Another perfect alignment, which may offer new details on the matter, should take place in 2021.
“There must be differences in the magma supply to the two halves of the patera, and whatever is triggering the start of overturn manages to trigger both halves at nearly the same time but not exactly,” co-author Imke de Pater added.