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Volcanoes Found on All the Planets and Even Moons!


It’s no big secret that volcanoes can build
new lands. Let’s take the Hawaiian Islands for example. They were a result of underwater volcanic
eruptions that pumped out molten rock. It reached the surface of the sea and formed
landmasses. But, did you know that the Earth isn’t the
only body in our solar system with volcanoes? With technological advancements, we were able
to explore (from afar) parts of the universe and discover volcanic activity on both planets
and moons. Granted, some of them have been inactive for
millions of years. But others are spewing all sorts of things
into their atmospheres. Most volcanic eruptions found on both moons
and planets formed millions of years ago, when our solar system was still a baby and
all cosmic bodies had higher internal temperatures. When we think of the term “active volcano”,
we usually associate it with the ones on Earth that are currently erupting. It’s easy, because we can observe them closely. Beyond our planet, the luxury of studying
volcanic eruptions wasn’t available until the invention of powerful telescopes. Some were even transported closer to other
planets and moons to get a better look. The most direct way to get evidence of volcanic
eruptions is to see or capture them in action. The other way is to observe the body’s surfaces. An outburst can cover the ground with debris,
or it can cause a resurface. Without such studies, it’s almost impossible
to know if the volcanic activity is recent, or millions of years old. Volcanos, as we know them, are mostly mountainous
openings in the Earth’s surface that emit volcanic ash, lava, and gases. Celestial bodies that are closer to the sun
have a more solid composition and produce silicate rock lavas, just like Earth. However, planets and moons beyond Mars are
filled with gas and silicate rocks. These have cryovolcanoes. Instead of hot molten rock; they spew cold
liquid or frozen gasses such as ammonia, methane, and water. Based on studies, only 4 bodies of our solar
system have been proven to have active volcanoes, and only one of them is a planet. The planet is the Earth. The rest of them are moons. We have Triton – Neptune’s largest natural
satellite. Then there’s Enceladus, which is Saturn’s
6th largest moon. And, the most troubling one: Io, which belongs
to the Jupiter Gang. It holds the title for the 4th largest moon
in our solar system. Let’s start with Ioc, which recently made
some news. Io managed to scare everyone by making them
believe there was a black hole on Jupiter. NASA’s Juno spacecraft snapped a series
of detailed images of the planet back in 2012. During the latest approach, which took place
this year, it pictured a huge black spot on the ringed planet. At first, everyone was shocked. But as it turned out, it was Io’s shadow
being cast on the surface. The spacecraft was approximately 5,000 miles
away from the planet’s surface, but it just so happened to capture an eclipse. Due to Io’s distance from the sun, it’s
hard to imagine that it has active volcanos. But, because of its small volume, it’s influenced
by the planet’s gravity. This gravitational attraction causes powerful
pulls which result in strong internal tides. These are followed by inner friction; the
moon heats up, and volcanic eruptions occur. Io has hundreds of volcanic openings. Some of them blast frozen vapor, lava, and
so-called volcanic snow. It was also hit by asteroids, just like other
bodies in our solar system. But the impact craters keep disappearing because
of the eruptions. The volcanic material spills onto the surface
of the moon, covering and resurfacing different parts. That’s the evidence of volcanic activity. In august of 2014, NASA showed some images
of volcanic eruptions that occurred on Io between the 15th and 29th of August in 2013. They were gigantic eruptions, projecting hundreds
of miles above the surface. Oddly, only Earth and Io can spew hot lava
in our solar system. Now let’s get to the king – Triton. This is the largest natural satellite of Neptune,
and the first place where cryovolcanoes were observed. In 1977, space probe Voyager 2 detected a
long cloud of smoke filled with nitrogen gas and dust. It erupted from the moon and traveled 5 miles
up in the air. These eruptions happened quite often, and
Triton’s surface became soft. Here’s how it goes: The cryovolcano eruptions
fall back onto the surface, creating a soft layer similar to snow. Researchers believe that radiation from the
sun goes through the surface of the moon and heats up the underground layer. Then, heat gets trapped and vaporizes the
nitrogen that lies below the surface. That results in the expansion of nitrogen,
which then erupts through the icy layers. The third active cryovolcano is on – one
of the natural satellites of Saturn. In fact, this is the best documented active
volcano. The first activity recorded was in 2005, by
the Cassini spacecraft. It captured jets of icy particles coming out
from the South Pole Region. Cassini even managed to fly over the volcanic
cloud and reported that it was composed of water vapor, small amounts of methane, nitrogen
and carbon dioxide. There’s a theory that explains how those
specific cryovolcanoes work. Below the satellite’s surface, there are
pockets of pressurized water. It remains in liquid form because it’s warmed
up from the interior. Occasionally, the pressurized water comes
to the surface and produces a cloud of water vapor alongside icy particles. Cryovolcanoes hadn’t been discovered until
2005, so an extensive search in our solar system was limited. While not yet proven, there’s a lot of evidence
out there hinting at active volcanos elsewhere in the solar system. Take Venus, for example. There’s a lot of action going on there! It’s the hottest planet of the group. It has over 1,600 large volcanoes, and 100,000
to 1 million smaller ones. But what happens on Venus stays on Venus,
hidden below it’s thick cloud clover, which is mostly composed of sulfuric acid and carbon
dioxide. That’s a vacation spot! There’s no air or water on the surface of
the planet – it just boils off. Venus has an extreme greenhouse effect. Therefore, it’s temperature can soar up
to 880F. However, it has many layers of different temperatures. The atmospheric pressure slows down the winds. This stops rain or airstreams from affecting
its surface, which is why old volcanic eruptions look relatively new. The variety of explosions is limited – only
lava comes out, without volcanic ash or explosive molten rock. The tallest feature that resembles a volcano
is the Maat Mons. It’s 3 miles in height. An orbiting probe, called Venus Express, recorded
some spikes in temperatures that could indicate lava flows. However, it hasn’t been confirmed if it’s
an active volcano. In 2015, scientists working with NASA’s
New Horizons mission collected high-resolution data of one or two cryovolcanoes on the surface
of Pluto. They’re 90 miles wide and 2.5 miles in height. If scientists are correct, they’ll be the
largest cryovolcanoes outside of our solar system. For the time being, they were given the name
Wright Mons to honor the Wright Brothers. Another possible volcano was mentioned in
a 2019 study. Scientists from the European Space Agency,
NASA, and the German Aerospace Center might’ve solved how the Ahuna Mons was formed. This was a mysterious mountain that appeared
on the surface of Ceres – the largest object in our asteroid belt. It’s believed to be a cryovolcano that gushes
plumes of saltwater and mud onto its surface. Ahuna Montata! It’s means no worries, I mean no Lava. Mars also had a few volcanic features in the
Tharsis Montes region. The largest one is the Olympus Mons. The mountain was formed because of repeated
volcanic eruptions on the planet. This was, in fact, the biggest volcano in
our solar system. It stands 16 miles high and is 374 miles in
diameter. To put that into perspective, if you were
to put Olympus Mons next to Mount Everest, well Everest would seem like mole hill. The gigantic highland is a slightly sloping
shield volcano. From the side, it resembles a warrior’s
shield laying on the ground. That’s how the name was inspired. Speaking of inactive volcanoes, Mercury had
a ton. It’s now filled with craters, and as far
as volcanic activity goes, nothing interesting happens. But, in the distant past, things were more
exciting there. There were huge stretches of landmasses that
formed as a result of liquified rock spreading across its surface. When the planet began to cool down, those
volcanoes went extinct. A huge area of the Earth’s moon is also
covered in ancient lava flows, but it’s no longer volcanically active. Those areas are called “Mares” which means
“seas” in Latin. The somewhat darker-looking areas remained
from previous magma streams that spread on the surface before they cooled down. Mare Tranquilitus (The Sea of tranquility)
was where Apollo 11 first landed. Lastly, we have the largest moon of Saturn
– Titan. It’s the only identified moon with a dense
atmosphere. It’s also the only extra-terrestrial body
with lakes, but it doesn’t contain water. It’s made up of liquid hydrocarbons. One of the famous mountains there is the Doom
Mons. However, there’s still some debate about
whether it has active volcanoes. If it does, they’d be cryovolcanoes. Astronomers suspect that more volcanic activity
will soon be discovered on the moons of icy planets in our solar system. These include Europa, Dione, Miranda and Ganymede. They’ll likely be so excited with the discoveries,
they’ll be “over the moon”. Hey, if you learned something new today, then
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the Bright Side of life!

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