Io is one of Jupiter’s many moons. It is the 4th largest Moon in the Solar system. Io is very unique in many ways as it is the densest moon and also the celestial object with the least amount of water in our Solar system.
Interesting Io Facts
- Io is the third-largest moon of Jupiter.
- It is the fourth largest moon in the entire solar system.
- It is the innermost Galilean satellite of Jupiter.
- It was discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610.
- It has a radius of 1821 km.
- It is the densest moon in the solar system.
- It has been named after one of the lovers of the god Zeus in Greek mythology.
- It has an orbital period of 42 hours.
- The first spacecraft to visit Io were Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 by NASA in the 1970’s.
- Io is nearly 4.5 billion years old.
- It contains the least amount of water out of any other celestial body in the entire solar system.
- It has the potential to create nearly 3 million amperes of electricity.
- Its interaction with the planet Jupiter has resulted in it forming and extremely strong magnetic field. This is one of the strongest magnets of spheres in the entire solar system.
- The discovery of the Galilean moons is one of the most significant ones in the history of astronomy as the provided a strong bases to the heliocentric theory that stated that the sun was at the center and other planets revolved around it. This is contradictory to the ancient belief of the earth being the center of the universe and all the moons and stars including the sun revolving around it.
- The potential for life on Io has led to the moon becoming a popular and importance setting for works of art in science fiction. Europa has been mentioned in several books, comic books, TV shows, films and most importantly video games.
- Some of the moons of Jupiter like Callisto are being considered as a potential site to build bases to make the exploration of the outer solar system easier.
Io is one of Jupiter’s moons. It is one of the four Galilean satellites of the planet Jupiter along with Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. It is also the third-largest moon of the planet after Ganymede and Callisto.
It is the fourth-largest moon in the entire solar system after Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, Saturn’s moon Titan, and Jupiter’s Callisto.
It is also the densest moon in the entire solar system. It is one of the most unique objects in the entire solar system because of its properties and nature.
The discovery of the Galilean moons was very important as it gave solid scientific evidence to the heliocentric model of the solar system and helped to explain the structure of the solar system as we know it today.
The Jovian moon Io is explained in detail as follows.
The Jovian moon was discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610 along with the other major moons of Jupiter namely Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Collectively they are called the Galilean satellites.
Io has been named after one of the lovers of Zeus from Greek mythology. She was a priestess of Hera. This name was suggested by Simon Marius.
However, the names of the Galilean satellites came into common use much after their discovery and suggestions i.e. in the mid-twentieth century. Io was also sometimes referred to as Jupiter I meaning the first satellite of the planet Jupiter.
Scientists believe that the four Galilean moons were formed by the materials which were remaining in Jupiter’s disc after the formation of the planet itself. This means that they are at least 4 billion years old. Hence these moons are almost as old as the solar system itself.
Io appears to have a uniform color or appearance throughout its surface. For most of its part appears to be bright lemon yellow in color with some faint white patches. This is because of the high sulphur content on its surface.
Its surface is covered with numerous volcanoes. In fact, it is the most volcanically active moon in the solar system.
As it is very far away from the Earth and is often outshined by Jupiter, it cannot be seen by the naked eye. However advanced telescopes can be used to view and observe Io.
Io is slightly larger than the Earth’s moon with a radius of about 1821 km. It is tidally locked to Jupiter that is only one face of the moon can be seen from the surface of the planet.
It also has a synchronous rotation. The orbit of Io is slightly elliptical. Hence, Jupiter’s influence causes “tides” on the moon.
The Jovian Moon takes nearly 1.8 days to complete one rotation about its own axis. Io is nearly 778 million kilometers away from the Sun on an average.
Io has no magnetic field of its own. Due to its close distance to the Jupiter Io exhibits extremely strong magnetism and can also be called as an electric generator. It is capable of generating an electric current of as much as 3 million amperes.
Jupiter’s rotation is largely responsible for the moon’s magnetic properties. Nearly every second one ton or a thousand kilograms of the material from Io is being stripped off due to this reason. The magnetic field ionizes this material.
Orbit & Rotation
Io is the closest to Jupiter out of the other Galilean moons. It is the third-largest moon of Jupiter and the fourth-largest moon in the entire solar system. It takes nearly 42.5 hours to complete one orbit around Jupiter. Since Io is tidally locked, only one side of the moon faces Jupiter.
Distance from Jupiter
Io is about 421,800 km away from Jupiter.
Composition and Surface
Io is mainly composed of iron and silicate rock. It is the densest moon in the entire solar system. It contains the least amount of water out of any other celestial body in the entire solar system.
The surface of Io is covered by smooth plains, tall mountains and volcanoes much to the surprise of the scientists who thought that the surface of the Moon would be full of impact craters like Mars and Mercury.
Volcanoes on Io
As stated earlier, it is the most volcanically active body in the entire solar system. It has hundreds of volcanoes with extensive Lava flows. It is known to have at least 400 active volcanoes. Some of these volcanoes and other Mountains are even taller than Mount Everest on earth.
Some volcanoes on the Moon are so large and powerful that they can be seen from the earth with the help of telescopes. This volcanism has given this moon a lot of unique features. The lava flows in different physical features of the moon. As a result, this moon gets a lot of shades like red, green, yellow, black, etc.
The volcanic material is also responsible for the formation of the thin atmosphere of the Jovian Moon. The volcanoes present on the Moon are adopting constantly and continuously resulting in the creation of plumes that rise above the surface.
They can also create large lakes that can span over a large area. Hence, we can say that Io is ever dynamic in nature.
The atmosphere of the moon is extremely thin and mostly consists of sulphur dioxide which gives it its yellow appearance. It also contains some traces of sulphur monoxide, atomic sulphur, oxygen and sodium chloride.
The atmosphere of this moon undergoes several variations in temperatures and density depending upon the day the time and the latitudes being considered.
The average temperature of the surface of the Jovian moon is -173 °C.
Io has been observed by many spacecrafts as part of a mission of exploring the Jovian moon system. However, it has never been an individual or exclusive destination for a space mission.
The first spacecrafts to observe Io were Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 by NASA in the 1970s. They were sent to explore Jupiter and Jovian moon system.
They provided significant information about the Job and moon which included its composition.
An important step in the exploration of the Jovian Moon system took place with NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in 1979. They conducted a flyby of Io and provided information about the moon in much greater detail.
They also helped in accurately measuring the mass, size, and temperatures on the Jovian moon.
Another space mission called Galileo conducted several flybys and exploration of the planet Jupiter and its moons from 1994 to 2003. It came extremely close to Io three times between the years 1999 and early 2000.
In late 2000 to early 2002, another three flybys were conducted. The Cassini spacecraft en route to Saturn also flew by Io in the year 2000. In 2007 The New Horizons spacecraft en route to Pluto provided more spectral images of the Jovian Moon.
The European Space Agency or the ESA is expected to launch another mission to explore Jupiter and its moons in 2022. It is called the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer or JUICE.
The Europa Jupiter System Mission or the EJSM was formerly proposed as a joint machine by NASA and the ESA which was supposed to be launched in 2020.
Several other future missions to be sent to Jupiter and its moons are being planned and are under process. Soon enough human missions to these moons could also be possible.
In fact, some of the moons of Jupiter like Callisto are being considered as a potential site to build bases to make the exploration of the outer solar system easier.
The Galilean Satellites as Important Scientific Discoveries
In the ancient times people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and all the other planets in the solar system the moon and the sun revolves around the earth. This was called the geocentric astronomical model.
In the 16th century, Copernicus introduced another model which was called the heliocentric model. This module was its total contradiction to the geocentric model because it stated that the sun was at the center and the planets revolved around it.
This began a very heated of debate between scientist divided amongst themselves on the two parts. It lasted for several years.
In 1610 when Galileo Galilei discovered the four Galilean satellites it was an important development in the history of astrology.
As the moons of Jupiter were the first satellites to be discovered that orbited a planet other than the earth. This created a strong argument in favor of the heliocentric model. The heliocentric model was accepted quite later.
Potential for Life
No human being has ever visited this moon. No evidence of life has been found on the Jovian moon and it is not even expected. This is because two conditions on the Jovian moon are too extreme to sustain life.
It is also the celestial body in the solar system with the least amount of water present throughout. Hence it is quite unlikely on nearly impossible for life to exist on it.
However, we cannot deny the possibility of the presence of a different kind of life form on Io.
The solar system is an interesting and unpredictable place and we never know what we can expect from different celestial bodies contained in it.
Io in Pop Culture
As one of the most unique objects in the solar system, Io has become a fascinating object for science fiction writers. However, Io is popular in the Earth’s culture more as a part of the planet Jupiter’s moon system than individually.
Nevertheless, it has been mentioned in several movies, books, TV shows, and video games both individually and as a part of the Jovian Moon system.
Some of these books include The Mad Moon (1935) by Stanley G. Weinbaum, Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957) by Isaac Asimov, Bio of a Space Tyrant – Volume 1 – Refugee (1983) by Piers Anthony, The Very Pulse of the Machine (1998) by Michael Camouflage (2004) by Joe Haldeman, etc.
Some movies and TV shows are 2010 (1984), Outland (1981), Escape from Jupiter (1994), Heroic Age (2007), etc. Some such video games are Final Doom, Descent, Halo, Destiny 2, Warframe
- 1610: Io is discovered by Galileo Galilei.
- 1973: Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 become the first spacecrafts to pass by Io
- 1979: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 pass by Io to give more detailed images
- 1995: Spacecraft Galileo closely flies by Io
- 2007: NASA’s New Horizons flies past the Jovian system