Tag Archives: Discovery

The discovery of volcanoes on Io

discovery image

On March 8, 1979, as Voyager 1 was speeding away from Jupiter after its historic flyby of the gas giant three days earlier, it looked back at the planet and took some navigational images. Linda Morabito, one of the engineers in charge of using these navigational images to make sure the spacecraft was on its planned course, took one look at the image on the right, an overexposed image of the moon Io, and decided that it had captured something very unusual. On the limb of the moon was this strange shape that at first glance looked like another moon partly hidden behind Io. She and her fellow engineers immediately realized that this was not possible, and that the object was probably a plume coming up from the surface of Io. To their glee, they had taken the first image of an eruption of active volcano on another world!

Today, on the astro-ph preprint website, Morabito has published a minute-by-minute account of that discovery. It makes for fascinating reading, partly because the discovery was so exciting and unique, partly because it illustrated starkly the human nature of science research, and partly because of the amazing circumstances of that discovery. Only one week before, scientists has predicted active volcanism on Io in a paper published in the journal Science. To quote her abstract:
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An Israeli company has discovered a giant off-shore oil and gas field within Israeli territorial waters.

An Israeli company has discovered a giant off-shore oil and gas field within Israeli territorial waters.

“The quantity of gas discovered in the licenses, and the high probabilities, make it the third largest offshore discovery to date,” according to Israel Opportunity chairman Ronny Halman, quoted by Globes. He added, ”This quantity guarantees Israel’s energy future for decades, and makes it possible to export Israeli gas, and boost the state’s revenues without worrying about gas reserves for domestic consumption.”

Coming and going

There are really only two important stories today concerning space exploration. The story that is getting the most coverage is the big news that the space shuttle Discovery is making its last flight, flying over Washington, DC, as it is delivered to the Smithsonian for permanent display.

Of these stories, only Irene Klotz of Discovery News seems to really get it. This is not an event to celebrate or get excited about. It is the end of an American achievement, brought to a close probably three to five years prematurely so that the United States now cannot even send its own astronauts to its own space station.

The other news, actually far more important, has gotten far less coverage, and includes three different stories all really about the same thing.
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