Enlarge / Loki Patera, in the lower-center, has a central island that divides two waves of molten material. (credit: NASA/JPL/USGS)
Volcanic activity appears to be a common feature in our Solar System; we have evidence of it on three planets and two moons and hints of it elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean all volcanic activity is the same.
Venus’ activity is driven by a simple version of plate tectonics. On the Moon, massive lava flows were released by large impacts, and Mars just seems to have vented heat left over from its formation.
There are also hints of cryovolcanoes, which belch up ice rather than lava, on some of the bodies of the outer Solar System.
But when it comes to sheer volume of activity, all of this takes a back seat to Jupiter’s moon Io.
Io is partially molten due to gravitational stress from its proximity to three large moons and a massive planet.
The results are active volcanoes and vast pools of molten material on the Moon’s surface.
And we just got a good look inside the biggest of them.
Slicing up Loki
Loki Patera is the most powerful active volcano in the Solar System.
It’s an enormous crater with a central island; around that island is a sea of hot material that covers more than 20,000 square kilometers.
By all appearances, that hot material isn’t stable, since the entire surface seems to be reworked every few years, temporarily replaced by new hot material.
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