HomeAstronomy & SpaceAstronomyA new explanation for why Jupiter's moon has splendid dunes

A new explanation for why Jupiter’s moon has splendid dunes

Scientists have long wondered how Jupiter’s innermost moon which is Io, has meandering ridges as grand as any that can be seen in movies like Dune. A Rutgers research study has provided a new explanation of how dunes can form even on a surface as icy and roiling as Io’s.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications. The study was based on a study of the physical processes controlling grain motion coupled with an analysis of images from the 14-year mission of NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. It allows the creation of the first detailed maps of Jupiter’s moons. The study is expected to expand our scientific understanding of the geological features on these planet-like worlds.

Current scientific understanding dictates that dunes are hills or ridges of sand piled up by the wind. Scientists in previous studies of Io, described its surface as containing some dune-like features. They concluded the ridges could not be dunes since the forces from winds on Io are weak due to the moon’s low-density atmosphere.

The Galileo mission lasted from 1989—2003. It logged so many scientific firsts that researchers to this day are still studying the data it collected. One of the major insights gleaned from the data was the high extent of volcanic activity on Io. Its volcanoes repeatedly and rapidly resurface the little world. Io’s surface is a mix of black solidified lava flows and sand. There flows “effusive” lava streams and “snows” of sulfur dioxide. Scientists used mathematical equations to simulate the forces on a single grain of basalt or frost and calculate its path.

Scientists devised a mechanism by which the dunes could form. They looked to photos of Io’s surface taken by the Galileo spacecraft for more proof. The spacing of the crests and the height-to-width ratios they observed were consistent with trends for dunes seen on Earth and other planets.


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