Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Beware Io Dust: "Jupiter's moon Io is peppered with volcanoes, the hottest, most active volcanoes in our solar system. Sizzling vents spew plumes of gas and dust as much as 400 km high. They surge, spit, subside and surge again, non-stop.

A volcanic plume on Io, photographed by NASA's Galileo spacecraft."The towering plumes, outlined by graceful arcs of rising and falling ash, are eerily beautiful. Their tops jut into space, freezing. Beneath them, scientists believe, it snows. Sulfurous flakes crystallize in the plume-tops and drift gently down to coat Io's colorful terrain.

"High above the gentle snowfall something unexpected happens. At the apex of the plumes, some of the dust and ash that ought to turn around and fall … doesn't. Defying gravity, it keeps going up, not slowing but accelerating, 2 times, 10 times, hundreds of times faster than a speeding bullet, away from Io and into deep space."

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