“In this way, for the first time we can measure the brightness coming from different regions within the lake,” explained Al Conrad, the lead of the study and a Scientist at the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory (LBTO) in a press statement.
Using its twin 8.4-meter mirrors, the Large Binocular telescope observatory in Arizona managed to spy on a large lava lake on Jupiter’s moon Io, located some 500 million miles (800 million kilometers) away.
The innermost moon of the gas giant, which is slightly larger than Earth’s own moon, is considered the most geologically active body in the entire solar system. At least 300 volcanic structures dot its surface.
The largest of these features is a volcanic pit named after Loki, the Norse trickster god. The depression is filled with a sulfur-encrusted lake measuring around 125 miles (200 kilometers) across.
The Voyager 1 spacecraft first discovered Io’s volcanism back on March 5, 1979, when it barnstormed the Jovian moon and snapped dramatic images of a giant, nearly 200-mile-tall plume (300 kilometers) rising into space, later revealed to be emanating from Loki.
The new high-resolution infrared images of Loki produced by the Large Binocular Telescope show an active horseshoe-shaped lava lake with multiple bright spots, representing heat rising from the lake surface. That exceptional detail is thanks to the telescope’s ability to digitally stitch together its two mirrors, giving an image like that of one single optical unit spanning nearly 75 feet (23 meters) across.
Astronomers can now examine various bright spots in the lake that they believe may represent individual lava flows or eruptions as the lake’s crust breaks apart and re-forms. And that could help answer some fundamental questions about the active moon.
“Io’s highly elliptical orbit close to Jupiter is constantly tidally stressing the moon, like the squeezing of a ripe orange, where the juice [magma] can escape through cracks in the peel,” said team member Chick Woodward of the University of Minnesota in a prepared statement.
“Studying the very dynamic volcanic activity on Io, which is constantly reshaping the moon ‘s surface, provides clues to the interior structure and plumbing of this moon, helping to pave the way for future NASA missions such as the Io Volcano Observer,” Woodward explained.source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150430-lava-lake-loki-binocular-telescope-science-astronomy/