- In 1979, the space probe Voyager II imaged a spectacular
profile of the Jovian moon Io, revealing what mission scientists believed
to be active "volcanoes," with plumes jetting far into space.
At the time, it was considered "probably the greatest surprise"
of the Voyager flyby. "It appears that activity on Io affects the
entire Jovian system," states a JPL fact sheet.
- But at least one astrophysicist noted that the newly
discovered "volcanoes" did not behave like volcanoes on Earth.
Rather, they showed the distinctive features of electrical discharge. In
the Journal Science (Nov 1979) Cornell University's Dr. Thomas Gold proposed
that the plumes were provoked by an electrical exchange between Io and
Jupiter. This was immediately disputed by a team of five scientists, including
Gene Shoemaker, who argued that an electric discharge would be extremely
hot -- much hotter than lava -- and that Earth-based instruments have not
detected such temperatures. Dr. Gold wrote a rejoinder to Shoemaker, et
al., which the journal Science chose not to publish.
- Years later, plasma scientists Dr. Anthony Peratt and
the distinguished Professor AJ Dessler, then at Rice University, followed
up on Gold's suggestion. In the journal Astrophysics and Space Science,
No. 144 (1988), the authors related the data on Io's "volcanoes"
to the experimental work of Hannes Alfven, who had detailed the unique
patterns of electrical discharge in laboratory experiments.
- Peratt and Dessler recognized that the physics of Io's
plumes answered directly to Alfvén's earlier research on the plasma
gun, a device for concentrating electrical energy in an explosive jet.
In fact, the plumes on Io exhibit all of the specific features of
the "penumbra" produced by such a discharge, including distinctive
filamentation within the plumes and termination in a thin symmetrical ring.
Even the ejection velocity of Io's "volcano" Prometheus can be
predicted by the formula for calculating discharge velocities in a plasma
gun. Describing the electrical phenomena in an article dedicated to Alfvén
on his 80th birthday, Peratt and Dessler say, "The apparent filamentary
penumbra on Io may be the first direct verification of the plasma gun mechanism
at work in the solar system."
- Prior to the Galileo probe's 1996 arrival in the Jovian
system, electrical theorist Wallace Thornhill registered these advance
- * the vents of the "volcanic" plumes will be
much hotter than lava;
- * the plumes are the jets of cathode arcs, and they do
not explode from a volcanic vent but move around and erode the periphery
of dark areas (called "lava lakes" by planetary geologists);
- * the "lava lakes" themselves are merely the
solid surface of Io etched electrically by cathode arcs and exposed from
beneath the "snow" deposited by continuous discharge activity.
Therefore, they will not reveal the expected heat of a recent lava flow.
- Each of these predictions received stunning confirmation.
Io's "volcanic" hot spots were not only hotter than any lava
on Earth, but were too hot to be measured by Galileo's instruments. Also
as predicted by Thornhill, the discharging was found to be focused on the
edges of the so-called "lava lakes," though the rest of these
dark fields are comparatively cold. None of the expected volcanic vents
could be found. Rather, some of the "volcanic" plumes are actually
MOVING across the surface of Io! The plume of the "volcano" Prometheus
has moved more than 80 kilometers since the Voyager mission.
- Inspiring further astonishment amongst mission scientists,
the "volcanic" plumes emit ultraviolet light -- something inconceivable
under normal conditions of volcanic venting. But ultraviolet light is of
course characteristic of an electric arc.
- Temperatures from the imagined "molten lava"
were hot enough to saturate Galileo's cameras. Mission scientists then
colored in bleached out areas in the photographs, converting the images
into what they expected to find. (From a NASA press release: "...surface
flows shown in the color image were assembled as an interpretive drawing
by Galileo scientists"). No "lava flow" ever witnessed has
displayed temperatures so high as to produce the effect seen in the original
Galileo image. But this did not persuade the investigators to reconsider
any of their previous assumptions about the "volcanoes." (See
NASA's X-mas Coloring Book,
- More recently, observations have added direct confirmation
to the electrical connection between Jupiter and Io. A recent image of
the Tvashtar "volcano" near the north pole of Io reveals a plume
extending 290 kilometers above the surface. The language of the NASA report
strikingly features the language of the electrical theorists:
- "The remarkable filamentary structure in the Tvashtar
plume is similar to details glimpsed faintly in 1979 Voyager images of
a similar plume produced by Io's volcano Pele. However, no previous image
by any spacecraft has shown these MYSTERIOUS STRUCTURES so clearly."
(emphasis added). (See Electric Io Revisited,
- "Filamentary structure" simply does not belong
in "volcanic" plumes, but as noted by Gold, Peratt, and Dessler,
it is a distinctive feature of the "penumbra" of an electric
- Space scientists have come to "depend" on Io's
"volcanoes" to account for the extraordinary electrical activity
witnessed in Jupiter's atmosphere. Many claim that charged particles from
Io's "volcanoes" are responsible for the Jovian auroras, which
are 1000 times more intense than anything seen on Earth. In this scenario,
the profuse electrical activity at Jupiter's poles -- approximately 10
MILLION volts -- is generated mechanically by the planet's SPIN (again,
no thought must be given to any external, electrical power source). Ions
from the "volcanoes" on Io are thought to "somehow"
travel to the planet's poles, then interact with the magnetic spin-generated
electricity to create an extraordinary "charge exchange" producing
- The NASA statement (which quotes investigator Randy Gladstone)
- "The polar electric fields grab any charged particles
they can find and slam them into the atmosphere. Particles for slamming
can come from the sun, but Jupiter has another, more abundant source nearby:
the volcanic moon Io, which spews oxygen and sulfur ions (O+ and S+) into
Jupiter's spinning magnetic field.
- "Somehow, these ions make their way to Jupiter's
poles where electric fields send them hurtling toward the planet below.
Upon entering the atmosphere, 'their electrons are first stripped away
by molecules they run into, but as they slow down they start grabbing electrons
back. The 'charge exchange reaction' produces intense X-ray auroras,' he
- This rationale is at once obscure and unsupported. The
problem arises from their assumption that Jupiter itself has no net charge.
But since it is BEHAVING like a charged body, they look to localized, mechanically
induced "charge separation" -- as if an "island" in
space, through some internal process, can miraculously acquire and dissipate
- What is actually occurring is an electrical connection
between the Sun, Jupiter, and its moons, and recent discoveries have revealed
this in no uncertain terms. When scientists discovered the most prominent
auroral trail, or "footprint of Io," in the Jovian atmosphere,
they assumed it must be an effect of "charge separation" generated
by Io's "volcanoes." However, this theory was undermined in 2005,
when Hubble images of the Jovian aurora revealed a similar "footprint"
of Europa and its swirling tail.
- A research team from the University of Liege, Belgium
wrote of this discovery: "Europa is not thought to be volcanic, so
what could produce the electrical current that zips along and eventually
gives rise to Europa's auroral footprint?"
- By incorrectly assuming that Io's "volcanos"
generate the electric current between that moon and Jupiter, the authors
of the 2005 report miss the point: Europa's electrical footprint in the
Jovian aurora is a huge warning that the assumptions astrophysicists have
applied to such enigmas can only create contradictions.
- As if to underscore the point, NASA investigators found
that the electrical exchange does not stop with Europa. It includes the
third moon Ganymede as well. NASA's Hubble Telescope website now shows
an image of the Jovian aurora, with three electrical footprints named,
including that from the interaction with Jupiter's third moon. Thus, the
original argument that conjectured "volcanoes" produced the signature
of electrical transactions in the Jovian auroras has been fully FALSIFIED.
The Io plumes are the RESULT of electrical transactions between Jupiter
- A further exclamation point to the Io surprises comes
from an analysis of the charged-particles surrounding the satellite. In
2000, scientists were "surprised" to discover an abundance of
sulfur monoxide in Io's "plasma torus." This contradicted their
expectations, since it is sulfur dioxide, not monoxide, that should be
the "dominant molecule" in the supposedly "volcanically"
- According to the <http://Space.com>Space.com report,
"Sulfur Molecules Around Io Surprise Scientists": "The results
privately puzzled Galileo scientists because they defied expectations.
Just when they thought they had an understanding of Io's atmosphere all
worked out, Galileo picked up a strong signature of a gas that was thought
to be only a minor component in Io's environment."
- The report then quotes a mission scientist who openly
expresses his perturbation: "Whenever you find something that you
don't expect. That's always an important thing to underline because that
indicates that the model that you were working with has something that
is not right in it."
- While this kind of candor is appreciated, nothing indicates
that scientists have returned to the fundamental question first posed by
Gold: Are Io's high energy plumes electrical in nature?
- For background into the realm of the Jovian moons, see