Tag Archives: volcano

What The Heck Is This Huge Lump On The Moon?

Volcanoes capture the imagination like little else on Earth, but did you know that there are also volcanoes on the Moon? Planetary scientists have often thought that the Moon is a dead satellite, in that there is no longer any internal heat left to drive surface processes like earthquakes, mountain building, or volcanic eruptions. Although recent evidence has suggested that volcanism on the Moon may have been happening more recently than previously thought, a new study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters shows that scientists still arent quite sure whats happening up there: a new, mysterious volcanic feature has been found on the lunar south pole.

This feature, named the Mafic Mound after the type of lava its made from, is 800 meters (2,600 feet) high and a whopping 75 kilometers (47 miles) across, sitting right in the middle of a gigantic impact crater, the South Pole-Aitken Basin. Its composition is vastly different from the lunar rock it is surrounded by, so where did it come from?

The enigmatic Mafic Mound, outlined. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University.

The lunar surface is an entirely volcanic landscape. The mare or seas that are most prominent on the near side of the Moon, tidally-locked to Earth, are huge flows of basaltic lava, almost exactly the same type you would see in Hawaii. Major impacts from various space rocks punctured holes in the lunar surface, causing swathes of lava to flood out into basins.

The Moon has experienced bonafide volcanic eruptions too. Between 3 and 4 billion years ago small domes and cones similar volcanoes on Earth formed. The gravitational field strength of the Moon is just asixth of Earths, meaning that volcanic debris was thrown over a very large area even for small explosive eruptions. This meant the cones were not able to successfully build themselves up; consequently, lunar volcanoes are pretty tiny.

So how did this massive southern Mafic Mound form? The authors of the study think the large impact crater is to blame. When anancient impactor smacked into the south pole, a cauldron of magma 50 kilometers (30 miles) deep was formed. As it cooled, it shrunk, but the core of the cauldron remained molten right until the last minute, and it was this prolonged cooling process that drastically changed the mineral content of the lava. At the last minute, thisseverely altered orevolvedsea of lava was squeezed up out of the crust, forming the Mafic Mound.

The Solar System is full of weird and wonderful volcanoes: Cassini has just started its flyby of the icy Saturnian moon of Enceladus, where it will rocket through an erupting ice volcanos plume. Venus erupts pancakes, Io erupts plumes over 60 times the height of Everest, and it appears even our own little Moon has exhibited novel volcanism in the recent past.

Image credit: NASA

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/what-heck-huge-volcanic-lump-moons-south-pole

Enormous Volcano On Pluto Might Be The Biggest In The Outer Solar System

In the inner Solar System, the biggest volcano we know of is Olympus Mons on Mars, 624 kilometers (374 miles) across and 25 kilometers (16 miles) high. But what about in the outer Solar System?

Well, that record might now belong to Pluto. If a feature known as Wright Mons on this dwarf planet is confirmed as a volcano, it will take the title of the biggest such feature beyond Mars.

Named in honor of the Wright brothers, this massive ice structure can be seen circled by the red ring in the new image above. It is 150 kilometers (90 miles) wide and 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) high and appears to have volcano-like features, including a central depression that resembles a volcanic crater.

This image was returned by the New Horizons spaceraft, part of the ongoing data that is being returned after the flyby on July 14, 2015. Taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) from a distance of 48,000 kilometers (30,000 miles), it shows features as small as 450 meters (1,500 feet) across.

Color data was provided by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), obtained from a distance of 34,000 kilometers (21,000 miles).

Wright Mons is located near to a large smooth region called Sputnik Planum.NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

One intriguing unanswered question is why there is only a smattering of red material known as tholins in the region.In addition, a lack of impact craters suggests that this surface is relatively young, meaning it has changed in the last few million years, possibly due to Wright Mons being active in Plutos late history. Wright Mons also has similarities to another theorized cryovolcano (ice volcano)on Pluto, Piccard Mons, which is slightly higher at 6 kilometers (3.5 miles).

Were not yet ready to announce we have found volcanic constructs at Pluto, but these sure look suspicious, and were looking at them very closely, said Jeff Moore, a planetary scientist at NASAs Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who heads the New Horizons geology team, when the structures were first studiedlast year.

If they are confirmed to be volcanoes that were active relatively recently, it would mean that Pluto likely has some sort of internal heat source. The cause of thisis not known, but it could be the radioactive decay of elements that remain from Plutos birth.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/pluto-might-have-biggest-volcano-outer-solar-system

This Ghostly Exoplanet Is A Volcanic Hell In Deep Space

Scientists have been hunting for planets outside of our Solar System exoplanets for decades, and weve found an incredible tapestry: some appear potentially habitable, some appear to orbit two stars rather than one, and some are simply enormous. Every now and then, a new type of exoplanet is discovered, and perhaps none are as strange as CoRoT-7b. This world is covered in oceans of lava, riddled with cataclysmic volcanism, and contains an atmosphere of vaporized rock that is being eaten away by its stars extreme heat. It is hell in deep space.

One Volcanic Planet to Rule Them All

Io, inarguably, is the volcanic king of our Solar System. Its internal heat is generated by a mechanism known as tidal heating. Jupiters immense gravitational pull, amplified by two other moons, tears Ios innards apart, turning solid rock into molten magma, which erupts spectacularly on its surface. This violent heat escape, aided by Ios very low atmospheric pressure, produces eruption plumes that reach heights of 500 kilometers (310 miles), higher than sixty Mount Everests stacked on top of each other.

A Promethean eruption plume breaching Io’s atmosphere. Image credit: NASA/JPL

But the exoplanet CoRoT-7b, found far from our little corner of the galaxy, puts Io to shame: It is the stripped remains of a gas giant, once a vast super planet before being blasted by its chaotic parent stars paroxysmal radiation. It is now a bizarre world of extreme temperature differences, destructive volcanoes, and persistently molten lava, located in the constellation of Monoceros.

A Song of Ice and Fire

CoRoT-7b, named after the French Space Agency telescope that discovered it, orbits a star480 light-years from Earth, meaning that we are seeing it as it would have looked during the time of Leonardo da Vinci. It is five times heavier than the Earth, roughly twice the size of our planet, and definitely rocky. But the similarities with Earth end there.

Firstly, the immense gravitational pull that its parent star has on it means that its rotation has been altered: It fully turns on its axis only once as it makes a single orbit of the star. This means that one side (hemisphere) is always facing the starand one is always facing away. This is known as tidal locking, a phenomenon observed with our own Moon.

Consequently, the far side of this planet is always in the stars shadow, with temperatures dropping as low as -210C (-350F); this is despite the planet being 23 times closer to its yellow dwarf star than Mercury is to our own Sun.

CoRoT-7b is almost 60 times closer to its star than Earth, so the star appears almost 360 times larger than the sun does in our sky, Brian Jackson, a researcher at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

The side bombarded with starlight and solar radiation is far from cold. With temperatures of up to 2,200C (4,000F), it is hot enough to vaporize any known rock. This means that most solid substances on this side of the planet would immediatelysublimate,changingfrom a solid to a gas andbypassing any liquid phase.

Remarkably, the atmosphere of this hellish world could have weather just like we experience on Earth, withclouds that produce rain, but with one major difference. Instead of condensing water falling from the sky as rain, the atmosphere of CoRoT-7b is likely made up of vaporized rock, which sometimes condenses and falls out of the alien sky as solid pebbles.

Image credit: Wead/Shutterstock.

A Ghost of a Planet

This unprecedented surface heating is clearly causing vaporization at incredible speeds, and some researchers think that this planet may even be losing its atmosphere into space altogether. In fact, when Jacksons team of researchers modeled the atmosphere of CoRoT-7b, they found that there would be no discernible amounts of gases normally found in rocky planetary atmospheres.

A study modeling this planets mass loss through this heating mechanism revealed something striking: When the planet first formed, it should have had the same mass as over 100 Earths, probably orbiting about 50 times the distance from its parent star than it is presently. Could this exoplanet have once been a huge gas giant?

Recent planetary models show that gas giants in other star systems tend to quickly tumble towards their parent stars after forming, gobbling up the inner rocky planets as they do. In fact, the only reason this didnt happen to our own Solar System with Jupiter tumbling inwards and consumingthe protoplanetary material for Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury is because Saturn formed behind it, pulling at it with its strong gravitational field and stopping its descent.

Gas giants that do fall towards their parent star, known as hot Jupiters,begin to violently evaporate as they do, with the hydrogen and helium gases in their atmospheres sublimating into space. CoRoT-7b could have suffered the same fate: It could have been a gas giant in ancient times before falling inwards, its atmosphere fading away. This means that, right now, CoRoT-7b could be the remnant of a gas giants core, a ghost of a once-mighty planet.

Terrifyingly, even if it was originally just a rocky planet, much of its mass would have been removed as it fell towards it parent star anyway due to the extreme temperatures its star-facing hemisphere experienced.

You could say that, one way or the other, this planet is disappearing before our eyes, Jackson said. CoRoT-7b may be the first in a new class of planetevaporated remnant cores.

A Volcanic Nightmare

CoRoT-7bs bizarre history isnt even its most dramatic feature. The same tidal heating mechanism that generates the volcanism on Io could be at work here, with two nearby planets perturbing the orbit of CoRoT-7b, tearing up its interior and generating vast amounts of heat. This heat will want to escape into space, and it will do so as spectacular volcanic eruptions. The dayside will certainly experience powerful volcanism, but even the side in perpetual night will have some activity.

Weirdly, this means that any nightside volcanic eruption will launch molten material into a freezing cold environment, which will cool rapidly and fall back as volcanic snow.

Either way, planetary scientists and volcanologists think that this gigantic rock could be home to more intensely violent volcanic eruptions than our Solar Systems own Io, leading to the invention of a category of new exoplanets: the Super-Ios. At the very least, it is certainly a lava world, with oceans of liquid fire covering much of its surface.

Image credit: Rainer Albiez/Shutterstock.

We do have some quirky volcanoes in our own Solar System. Enceladus has cryovolcanoes yes, volcanoes made of ice. The water there is the equivalent of magma and lava on Earth, and the ice stands in for solid rock. Venusian volcanism produces colossal pancakes, but not the sort of ones you might like to ingest. The lava that oozes unceremoniously out of Venus volcanoes spreads out over vast distances, crushed under the planets extreme atmospheric pressures.

CoRoT-7b is indubitably stranger than them all; it is a hellish world in the depths of space, making Io lookfairly tame in comparison.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/ghostly-exoplanet-volcanic-hell-deep-space

Space Pics of Alaskan Volcano Eruption Are Amazing


An erupting Alaskan volcano shot ash plumes so high into the air that astronauts on board the International Space Station were able to capture the activity in crisp, detailed photographs.

Pavlof Volcano — located in the Aleutian Arc about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage — erupted on May 13, spewing lava and generating an ash cloud that reached 22,000 feet high. Pavlof is one of the most active volcanos in the United States, with nearly 40 known eruptions.

While the majority of the plumes were released over the weekend, U.S. Geological Survey scientists told the Associated Press Thursday that the volcano is still rumbling, and seismic instruments continue to register tremors. Flights in the area have also been cancelled.

Astronauts snapped these images from 475 miles south-southeast of the volcano on May 18 using a Nikon D3S digital camera.

BONUS: Jaw-Dropping Photos of Auroras

‘Swarm’ of Volcanic Eruptions Could Help Mask Global Warming


Ash cloud (brownish hues) seen billowing away from the Sangeang Api volcano in Indonesia on May 31, 2014.
Image: NASA Earth Observatory

The Sangeang Api volcano in Indonesia began erupting on May 30, vaulting ash, along with tiny particles known as volcanic sulfur aerosols, as high as 65,000 feet into the stratosphere. Dramatic images from the eruption show the mountain exploding like a mushroom cloud.

The ash grounded air traffic in northwest Australia and parts of Indonesia, since those aerosols are hazardous to modern high bypass turbofan engines and can cause them to shut down in mid-flight.

Giant volcanic eruptions — the most famous being the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, also in Indonesia — are well-known for their ability to temporarily cool the Earth. But this eruption, even counted alongside a concurrent one in Alaska, are not large enough to make much of an impact on the planet’s temperature trends on their own.

The Sangeang Api volcano is located in the tropics, along the so-called Ring of Fire where the Earth’s tectonic plates meet one another, leading to all sorts of geological hazards, from volcanoes to earthquakes.

When volcanoes such as this one erupt, they can emit large amounts of sulfur dioxide, which acts to make the atmosphere more opaque, thereby shielding the planet from some of the sun’s incoming radiation.

This effect can theoretically offset some of the influence of manmade greenhouse gases, which trap heat inside the atmosphere and warm the planet.

But Alan Robock, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and a longtime researcher on volcanic influences on the climate, told Mashable that neither the Sangeang Api eruption nor a previous one at Mt. Semeru, also in Indonesia, put enough sulfur into the stratosphere “to have any climate effect, even like the ones of the past decade.”

Robock estimates that Sangeang Api has lofted about 0.1 teragrams of sulfur dioxide into the air — much of which did not make it into the upper reaches of the stratosphere, where it would have had the greatest possible influence.

However, these volcanic events are the latest in a “swarm” of tropical eruptions since 2000 that have transported enough sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to reduce recent global warming.

Global Temperature Anomalies

Line plot of global mean land-ocean temperature index (degrees Celsius), 1880 to present, compared to 1951-1980. The dotted black line is the annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year mean. The green bars show uncertainty estimates.


The Sangeang Api eruption is especially noteworthy because it is occurring in the tropics — and recent scientific research has shown that tropical eruptions, even small ones, can have an outsized impact on the climate. A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience in February found that small tropical eruptions since 2000 has contributed to a slowdown in the rate at which global average surface temperatures increased in recent years.

“Tropical eruptions are usually more effective at cooling the climate compared to a high latitude eruption that is the same size, because it has the potential to impact both hemispheres and the aerosol topically stays in the atmosphere longer,” says Ryan Neely, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder who has been examining the influence of sulfur dioxide emissions from volcanoes.

In addition to volcanoes, factors such as increased air pollution in Asia and the uptake of an unusual amount of heat into the deep oceans have also been implicated in the temporary, short-term slowdown.

A 2011 study published in the journal Science found that if stratospheric aerosols remain at elevated levels, the magnitude of future global warming may be somewhat masked — but not mitigated.

Yet another recent study, also published in Nature Geoscience in February, found that the 21st century increase in volcanic aerosol emissions could account for up to one-third of the temperature slowdown, also known as the “warming hiatus.”

Whether this cooling influence will continue is an open question. But the eruption of tropical volcanoes such as Mt. Kelud in Indonesia in February, and now the eruption of Sangeang Api, suggest the swarm is not subsiding.

“We do not know, of course, how volcanic activity will evolve over the coming decade,” says Benjamin Santer, a climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and coauthor of the study published in February on post-2000 eruptions. “I find it quite fascinating that the swarm … of early 21st century volcanic eruptions continues.”

Neely told Mashable scientists still need to determine exactly how much volcanic sulfur aerosols and other particles the recent eruptions put into the stratosphere in order to determine their climate impact.

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/04/ongoing-volcanic-eruptions-not-expected-to-alter-climate/

Watch A Man Climb Into An Active Volcano

George Kourounis rappelled nearly 400 meters (1,300 feet) into an active volcano to have the adventure of a lifetime and, of course, take a selfie. 

Kourounis is an adventurer and storm chaser who specializes in documenting extreme weather conditions. With fellow explorer and filmmaker Sam Cossman, the pair climbed deep into the Marum crater, located in an active volcano on the South Pacific’s Vanuatu archipelago. 

George Kourounis stood so close to the fiery pit of churning lava that at one point a splash of it melted a hole in his protective suit. 

“When you see that shot of me [in the video] looking like a little silver dot, next to what appears to be a waterfall of lava, that was an extremely dangerous spot to be standing,” Kourounis told the Huffington Post. “It was a bit scary. If something were to have gone wrong. It would’ve happened quickly, and catastrophically.”

Kourounis, Cossman, and two guides—Geoff Mackley and Brad Ambrose—spent four days at the crater’s edge, descending twice into the Marum Crater with rock climbing gear, heat resistant equipment, face masks and three cameras. The footage was filmed with a GoPro, a Canon 5D Mark III camera and a Sony NX Cam.

As Cossman wrote in a summary for the Youtube video, “More people have visited the moon than the fiery bottom of this spectacular and deadly place.”



Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/video-man-climbs-active-volcano

Drone Quadcopter Explores Volcanic Eruption

Shaun O’Callaghan recently uploaded this amazing video of a drone exploring the eruption of  Mount Yasur, a volcano in Vanuatu. His setup combined a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with a GoPro camera. The video gives an intimate look at the ash and lava being ejected, which can reach temperatures of 1,200 degrees Celsius. Amazingly, the drone was sturdy enough not to succumb to the extreme temperatures and flying debris. 


Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/drone-quadcopter-explores-volcanic-eruption

Molten lava meets a can of Coke

Freshly erupted lava can range from 700-1200 °C (1,300-2,200 °F). According to the manufacturers, Coca-Cola is best served at 4 °C (40 °F).

Photographer Bryan Lowry wondered (as so many of us do): “What would happen if a can of Coke crossed paths with molten lava?” He decided to stage an experiment on a volcano in Hawaii. One can had a small hole punctured in the top too prevent the aluminum can from exploding. The second can was left perfectly sealed. Lowry used a GoPro to capture the video and was not in any personal danger. 

How do you think the cans will fare against the lava?

Check it out:


Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/molten-lava-meets-can-coke

Iceland Volcano Erupts After Weeks of Unrest

Over the last seven years, seismic activity at Bárðarbunga, the second highest mountain in Iceland, has been gradually increasing. On August 16, a swarm of small earthquakes signaled the movement of molten rock underground, Nature reports, and visitors were blocked from the area. Less than two weeks later on August 28, researchers flying over Vatnajökull—Europe’s largest ice cap—spotted several depressions up to 15 meters deep in the side of the volcano, BBC reports. Called cauldrons, they’re the result of melt occurring at the base of the ice.

Finally, just after midnight local time on August 29, a fissure near Bárðarbunga erupted, sending gases and steam from small lava fountains into the air above the glacial ice north of the caldera in the volcano’s crown.

The eruption occurred on an old volcanic fissure on the Holuhraun lava field, about five kilometers north of the Dyngjujökull ice margin, according to a joint report from the University of Iceland and the Icelandic Met Office, which oversees volcanoes in the country. The active fissure was about 600 meters long. 

Seismic data and images from a webcam called Mila, located northeast of the site, show that the eruption peaked about 40 minutes in. It ended about four hours later. No volcanic ash was observed, and no plume was detected by radar. The threat to aviation has since been reduced to code orange. To the right is a 1973 satellite image of the Vatnajökull ice cap from NASA, with Bárðarbunga at its northwestern edge (top left). 

After the swarm of small earthquakes, 0.4 cubic kilometers of magma formed a sheet of freshly cooled rock (an intrusion called a dike) that stretched for 45 kilometers north of Bárðarbunga, Nature reports. The dike interacted with cracks leading toward a volcano called Askja 20 kilometers away. If the dike had managed to make it all the way to Askja, the stress and supply of fresh magma could have caused it to erupt. 

Furthermore, the sheer volume of magma involved suggests that it’s coming from the Earth’s mantle. The source is likely hundreds of kilometers below the surface of the crust, says British Geological Survey’s Evgenia Ilyinskaya, and not the shallow magma chamber beneath the volcano.  

Check here for updates from the Icelandic Met Office. 

Images: Icelandic Coast Guard (top) & NASA (middle) via Icelandic Met Office

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/iceland-volcano-erupts-after-weeks-unrest

Glacial Meltwater on Martian Volcano May Have Harbored Life


Heat from a volcano erupting beneath a glacier on Mars may have created large lakes in the relatively recent past, according to a new study. Hundreds of cubic kilometers of liquid water may have been present for hundreds, even thousands of years. And as we know by now, where there’s a hint of water, there’s also the possibility of life. 

One of the largest mountains in the solar system, the Martian volcano Arsia Mons is nearly twice as high Mount Everest. Scientists have speculated since the 1970s that the northwest flank of the tropical volcano was once covered by glacial ice. Then, about a decade ago, researchers showed how the terrain around the giant volcano shows striking similarities to features left by receding glaciers in the Dray Valleys of Antarctica: piles of rubble deposited at the edges of a flowing glacier. 

Using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a team led by Kathleen Scanlon from Brown University surveyed the glaciovolcanic landforms in the glacial deposits on the volcano, looking for evidence that lava flowed the same time that the ice was present. They found several features indicative of volcano-ice interactions: pillow and hyaloclastite mounds, ice-confined flows, and a tuya. 

On Earth, pillow and hyaloclastite formations occur when lava erupts at the bottom of an ocean or a glacier. When the pressure of the ice sheet constrains lava flow, and glacial meltwater chills the lava into volcanic glass bits, mounds and ridges are formed with steep sides and flat tops, called tuyas. The new analysis also turned up evidence of a river that formed in a jökulhlaup (“glacier run”), a giant outburst flood that occurs when water trapped by, or under, a glacier breaks free. 

According to the study, heat from the eruptions along the northwest flank — when a glacier covered the area around 210 million years ago — would have melted massive amounts of ice, forming “englacial lakes,” like liquid bubbles you’d find in a mostly-frozen ice cube. 

Using basic thermodynamics, they calculated that the eruption of hundreds of cubic kilometers of subglacial lava would have produced a similar volume of liquid meltwater. Two of the deposits would have created lakes containing around 40 cubic kilometers of water each, for example, while another of the formations would have created around 20 cubic kilometers.

Additionally, their back-of-the-envelope calculation estimates that these bodies of meltwater may have persisted on 100 to 1,000-year timescales. That may have been long enough for, say, microbes to colonize the lakes. 

According to recently developed climate models for Mars, during periods of increased axis tilt, ice now at the poles would have moved toward the equator. That makes giant mid-latitude mountains like Arsia Mons prime locations for glaciation around 210 million years ago. That means that this giant volcano may have been home to one of the most recent habitable environments found on Mars. Other possibilities turned up by various rovers were older than 2.5 billion years. “If signs of past life are ever found at those older sites, then Arsia Mons would be the next place I would want to go,” Scanlon says in a news release

The work was published in Icarus this week. 

[Via Brown]

Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University/Brown University

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/glacial-meltwater-martian-volcano-may-have-harbored-life