News From Space: Volcanic Eruption on Io!

Io.1Io, the innermost of Jupiter’s four largest moons, has always been a source of wonder for astronomers and scientists. In addition to its pockmarked and ashen surface, it is the most volcanically active object in the Solar System, with about 240 active regions. This is due to the immense tidal forces that Jupiter provides, which create oceans of lava beneath the surface and huge volcanoes blasting it hundreds of kilometers into space.

Naturally, these eruptions are not visible directly from Earth unless one is using infrared cameras. But recently, a new series of eruptions were observed by Dr. Imke de Pater, Professor of Astronomy and of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California in Berkeley. She was using the Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii on August 15, 2013 when it immediately became apparent something big was happening at Io.

Io_eruptionIn a telephone interview with Universe Today, de Pater claims this eruption is one of the top 10 most powerful eruptions that have been seen on Io, and she just happened to have the best seat in the house to observe it.

When you are right at the telescope and see the data, this is something you can see immediately, especially with a big eruption like that. It is a very energetic eruption that covers over a 30 square kilometer area. For Earth, that is big, and for Io it is very big too. It really is one of the biggest eruptions we have seen.

However, the fact that it occurred in the Rarog Patera region of Io, aptly named for a Czech fire deity, is somewhat unusual. While many regions of Io are volcanically active, de Pater said she’s not been able to find any other previous activity that has been reported in the Rarog Patera area, which the team finds very interesting.

Galileo_IoAccording to Ashley Davies of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena, California, Rarog Patera was identified as a small, relatively innocuous hot spot by the Galileo spacecraft during its encounter with the Jovian moon during the late 90’s. However, the observations made indicated that the volcanic activity was at a level way, way below what was seen on Aug 15.

Though we cannot see the eruptions directly, observation using the Keck telescope in the past have ascertained there are likely fountains of lava gushing from volcanically active fissures. But unlike volcanic eruptions here on Earth, which are already awesome and frightening to behold, eruptions on Io would be roughly 1000 times as powerful.

And since Io has no atmosphere to speak of, and the planet’s mass is significantly less than that of Earth’s (0.015 that of Earth’s to exact), the lava shoots off into space. Thus, for anyone standing on the moon’s surface, the result would look very much like a space launch at night, with plumes of flames reaching from the ground and extending indefinitely into the sky.

Io_Earth_Moon_ComparisonAs de Pater further indicated in the course of her interview, volcanic activity remains quite unpredictable on the Jovian moon:

We never know about eruptions – they can last hours, days months or years, so we have no idea how long it will stay active. but we are very excited about it.

No data or imagery has been released on the new eruption yet since the team is still making their observations and will be writing a paper on this topic. One thing is clear at this point, though. Despite its mysterious nature, Io still has a few surprises left for Earth scientists.

And for more information on the mysterious planet of Io, check out this Astronomycast podcast, featuring an interview with Dr. Pamela Gay of Southern Illinois University:

http://www.astronomycast.com/2011/12/ep-244-io/

Source: universetoday.com, astronomycast.com

The Future is Here: Insect Biobots!

One small step for man, one giant leap for man-machine interface! Or man-roach interface, I guess! It seems that researchers at the iBionicS lab at North Carolina State University have created a remote-control system to stimulate and steer cockroaches. This report came at the 34th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society last month, and represents quite the step forward for cybernetics.

In short, the research team equipped a Madagascar hissing cockroach with a circuit board that connects directly to its antennae. It’s a well known fact that cockroaches, in addition to being nuclear war-resistant, use their two antennas to find their way around. By sending electrical signals to one or the other, they were able to steer the cockroach as it made its way around.

To be fair, this is not the first case of insect cyborgs being developed. In 2009, the researchers at iBionicS unveiled a similar program using remote-controlled hawk moths. In that same year, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan presented their collaborate project: remote-controlled beetles! Here, the beetles had electrodes wired into their brains and flight muscles which were used to command them to take off and steer them while in the air.

Interestingly enough, research in both of these latter cases was being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with the goal of creating remote-controlled insects could go where humans cannot and aid in search-and-rescue or even spy missions. You’ve heard of UAV’s, aka. spy drones, doing reconnaissance, right? Well look out! The next time you see a flying beetle or a hawk moth, you could be on someone’s camera. Smile before you step on it!

And be sure to check out the video below of iBionicS lad testing their remote-control roach steering system.

Source: Discover Magazine