2021 has so far been an explosive year on our planet, but it’s not the only place in the Solar System where volcanoes have been making the news.
This week moon rocks returned to Earth on China’s Chang’e-5 mission revealed that the Moon was volcanically active a billion years more recently than previously thought. Last month scientists found evidence that Arabia Terra in northern Mars experienced thousands of “super eruptions” during a 500 million year period that could have changed the red planet’s climate.
Neither the Moon nor Mars are geologically active anymore, but there are plenty of places where “space volcanoes” can be found … though they’re not quite what you may expect.
“Our view of volcanoes is very much biased towards how they look on Earth—a conical shaped mountain, often with a snowy peak that erupts some kind of molten hot rock,” said Natalie Starkey, a geologist and cosmochemist and author of “Fire and Ice: The Volcanoes of the Solar System,” which published last week. “It was only from NASA’s Voyager missions that we found out that there were volcanic worlds elsewhere, but those volcanoes don’t look like those on Earth.” Starkey’s excellent book is the first to examine these extra-terrestrial volcanoes of our Solar System.
It’s an explosive read in more ways than one.
“There are some that are similar to Earth’s volcanoes in the inner Solar System—such as volcanoes on Venus and the 15 miles/25 kilometres high Olympus Mons on Mars, which looks very much like Mauna Kea in Hawaii,” said Starkey. “When we get to the icy moons we find volcanic behaviour, but not necessarily conical-shaped mountains.”
Volcanoes are a part of the efforts a planetary body makes to cool itself down, releasing excess heat into space. For geologists it’s instant evidence that a world is active. “The same thing happens even on icy worlds—they’re still warmer on the inside than on the outside and that heat wants to move,” said Starkey. “So it only takes a slight temperature change to turn frozen water, methane or ammonia into a liquid.” So on an icy world it’s liquid water/ammonia/methane rather than liquid rock that spews out of a warm core.
Yes, space volcanoes are pretty weird—and they get even weirder.
Here’s where you’ll find them in the Solar System—and they’re not where you think they are:
Venus: second planet from the Sun
Venus is the new Mars, with five missions due to visit in the next decade. But should it be on this list? “We don’t have any proper proof that it’s still erupting today,” said Starkey. “But there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that it does have active volcanoes on its surface.”
The weird thing about Venus is that its surface is all the same age—about 500 million years old—largely because it doesn’t have plate tectonics, as we have on Earth. “It’s got a similar amount of heat to lose as Earth because it’s about the same size, so it builds up and then there’s a huge event where all that heat is released over a few hundred million years,” said Starkey.
There are probably about 37 volcanoes that could still be active and may have erupted lava and gases recently, but the atmosphere is hard to see through—hence the bevy of imminent exploration missions, like DAVINCI+, which will include a lander.
Io: moon of Jupiter
The most volcanically active world in the Solar System, Io is the innermost Galilean moon of Jupiter and thought to be home to an underground ocean of magma. “It’s got a constant heat source because of the tidal heating from Jupiter,” said Starkey. Io is in a constant gravitational tug-of-war with Jupiter and the other big moons, so much so that it changes shape during its 42-hour orbit.
It’s that constant friction and energy that makes Io so hot—and therefore so volcanic—so much so that an ocean of magma exists beneath its surface. Io features eruptions many orders of magnitude bigger than what happens on Earth today. “It should continue being so volcanic for as long as it is next to Jupiter and the other Galilean moons.”
Europa: moon of Jupiter
Europa—the fourth largest of Jupiter’s 79 moons—has fractures in its icy surface that make it look like a “veiny eyeball.” That’s a clue to its volcanism. “Europa is almost certainly volcanically active,” said Starkey. “The easiest way to tell is its surface—if it’s covered by craters that indicates that it’s not been resurfaced.” There are a few crater visible on Europe, but not many. “It’s geologically interesting do it must have been active recently,” she said.
Enceladus: moon of Saturn
“Enceladus has a hot rocky core, just like Earth, but it’s got huge ocean of salty water that’s capped with ice,” said Starkey. That ice cap is, effectively, its crust, which salty water erupts through from the ocean underneath as geysers—but not like those found on Earth, which are related to volcanic activity, but are not produced by a volcano.
“On Enceladus, these geysers or plumes are literally that body’s magma coming out of the inside,” said Starkey.
Titan: moon of Saturn
Saturn’s largest moon has rain and flash floods, lakes and oceans, an atmosphere and humidity. It’s got ice comprised not of water, but of liquid ethane and methane. Titan is the most similar place in the Solar System to Earth despite its chemistry being very different. But volcanoes?
“It’s definitely got volcanoes, which are probably releasing methane, and it could also have a subsurface ocean where heat meets salty water,” said Starkey. Microbes? It’s possible. “That’s exactly how we think life started on Earth,” said Starkey. “Titan is certainly an active world—and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Miranda and Titania: moons of Uranus
The smallest and innermost of Uranus and the the eighth largest moon in the Solar System, respectively, are something of a volcanic enigma. Miranda was passed by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986. “These two look like evil worlds from a sci-fi movie, but they’re very geologically interesting,” said Starkey. “We don’t know much about these icy worlds and we need to go back.”
Miranda (which has a canyon 12 miles deep) is about half ice and half rock, with terraced layers that indicate both older and new surfaces coexisting. One theory is that partly melted ice is forced upwards to create new surfaces. Titania also has canyons and there’s some evidence for both tectonic activity and ice volcanoes.
It’s reckoned that Miranda, Titania and three other moons of Uranus—Ariel, Umbriel and Oberon—could have, or did have, liquid water below their icy surfaces.
Triton: moon of Neptune
“Triton was the first outer Solar System world that we found to be cryo-volcanically active,” said Starkey. Most of what we know about Triton came from a flyby in 1089 by Voyager 2, the spacecraft’s final target in its mission. “We saw streaks and plumes across the surface that looks like little fires burning—some kind of plume or volcanic activity but we have a lot of questions about Triton,” said Starkey. “It’s probably a captured moon and it’s probably being pulled and pushed about by Neptune.” Cue tidal heating as found on Io at Jupiter … but with an ocean, too.
Triton was identified as the highest priority candidate ocean world in January’s paper “The NASA Roadmap to Ocean Worlds”.
Pluto: dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt
Triton is known as Pluto’s twin, so it’s no surprise that everyone’s favourite ex-planet may also be home to cry-volcanic activity. How do we know? New Horizons’ flyby in 2015 showed us a smooth surface with no craters and detected ammonia, which lowers the temperature that ice water melts and creates a sludge—a kind of lava.
It also found what could be an ice volcano called Wright Mons, which could be the largest volcano discovered in the outer Solar System. It’s home to only one impact crater.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
Russian actor and director making first movie in space return to Earth after 12-day mission
A Russian actor and a film director making the first move film in space returned to Earth on Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS).
The Soyuz MS-18 Space capsule carrying Russian ISS crew member Oleg Novitskiy, Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko landed in a remote area outside the western Kazakhstan at 07:35 a.m. (0435 GMT), the Russian space agency Roscosmos said.
The crew had dedocked from the ISS three hours earlier.
Russian State TV footage showed the reentry capsule descending under its parachute above the vast Kazakh steppe, followed by ground personnel assisting the smiling crew as they emerged from the capsule.
However, Peresild, who is best known for her role in the 2015 film “Battle for Sevastopol”, said she had been sorry to leave the ISS.
“I’m in a bit of a sad mood today,” the 37-year-old actor told Russian Channel One after the landing.
“That’s because it had seemed that 12 days was such a long period of time, but when it was all over, I didn’t want to bid farewell,” she said.
Last week 90-year-old U.S. actor William Shatner – Captain James Kirk of “Star Trek” fame – became the oldest person in space aboard a rocketship flown by billionaire Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin.
Peresild and Shipenko have been sent to Russian Star City, the home of Russia’s space programme on the outskirts of Moscow for their post-flight recovery which will take about a week, Roscosmos said.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
Health Canada recalls BC cannabis product due to powdery mildew contamination – Aldergrove Star – Aldergrove Star
Health Canada and Joint Venture Craft Cannabis have issued a recall notice on a B.C.-based cannabis product due to contamination from powdery mildew.
The recall affects a batch of Bud Coast–Saltspring OG Shark dried cannabis in 3.5 gram units distributed by the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch. According to Health Canada’s recall notice, 1,071 units were sold between Sept. 22 and Oct. 7
“The affected product may contain powdery mildew. In certain individuals, exposure may result in allergic symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, wheezing, runny nose or nasal congestion, and watery or itchy eyes,” the notice reads.
Anyone who may have purchased the contaminated cannabis should stop using the product immediately and return the product to the retailer where they purchased it.
Exposure to mouldy cannabis products can cause temporary adverse health consequences, but neither Health Canada nor Joint Venture have received any adverse reaction reports about the recalled cannabis.
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NASA launches first space probe to study Jupiter's Trojan asteroids – Ottawa Citizen
NASA is poised to send Lucy, its first spacecraft to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, to glean new insights into the solar system’s formation 4.5 billion years ago, says the space agency
NASA launched a first-of-its kind mission on Saturday to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, two large clusters of space rocks that scientists believe are remnants of primordial material that formed the solar system’s outer planets.
The space probe, dubbed Lucy and packed inside a special cargo capsule, lifted off on schedule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT), NASA said. It was carried aloft by an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (UAL), a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Lucy’s mission is a 12-year expedition to study a record number of asteroids. It will be the first to explore the Trojans, thousands of rocky objects orbiting the sun in two swarms – one ahead of the path of giant gas planet Jupiter and one behind it.
The largest known Trojan asteroids, named for the warriors of Greek mythology, are believed to measure as much as 225 kilometers (140 miles) in diameter.
Scientists hope Lucy’s close-up fly-by of seven Trojans will yield new clues to how the solar system’s planets came to be formed some 4.5 billion years ago and what shaped their present configuration.
Believed to be rich in carbon compounds, the asteroids may even provide new insights into the origin of organic materials and life on Earth, NASA said.
“The Trojan asteroids are leftovers from the early days of our solar system, effectively the fossils of planet formation,” principal mission investigator Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, was quoted by NASA as saying.
No other single science mission has been designed to visit as many different objects independently orbiting the sun in the history of space exploration, NASA said.
As well as the Trojans, Lucy will do a fly-by of an asteroid in the solar system’s main asteroid belt, called DonaldJohanson in honor of the lead discoverer of the fossilized human ancestor known as Lucy, from which the NASA mission takes its name. The Lucy fossil, unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974, was in turn named for the Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Lucy the asteroid probe will make spaceflight history in another way. Following a route that circles back to Earth three times for gravitational assists, it will be the first spacecraft ever to return to Earth’s vicinity from the outer solar system, according to NASA.
The probe will use rocket thrusters to maneuver in space and two rounded solar arrays, each the width of a school bus, to recharge batteries that will power the instruments contained in the much smaller central body of the spacecraft.
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