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FAQ - Jovian Moons

1. Are studies being done on Io’s volcanic actions? Are Io’s processes the same as ours—caused by tectonics?

Io's volcanism is mainly driven by tidal heating, while Earth’s volcanism is driven by internal heat. Aside from this, the volcanic processes are fairly similar. However, Io has more energy to get rid of than the Earth, therefore there is much more volcanic activity on its surface than there is on Earth. Today, Earth’s internal energy is mostly coming from the decay of radioactive elements from primordial heating. Once most of those elements have decayed there will be much less tectonic and volcanic activity on the Earth. Io's tidal heating is continuous as it orbits around Jupiter in an elliptical orbit. The elliptical orbit results from the combined gravitational effects of Jupiter and the other major Galilean satellites outside Io’s orbit (Europa, Ganymede and Callisto). Thus, the ultimate source of Io’s volcanism is not decreasing with time. Io will continue to be a very interesting object for a long time, and for that reason it is going to be studied for years to come.

Volcanoes on Io look virtually identical to volcanoes on the Earth. That means the processes of eruption are the same—melted materials at depth working their way up to the surface through cracks and buoyancy forces. However, Io does not display plate tectonics: the volcanoes are more or less randomly distributed and there are no correlated belts of mountains and trenches (subduction zones) such as on Earth.

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