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No. 10: Spring 1980

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Io's electrical volcanos

Thomas Gold, of Cornell, long known for his provocative theories, has not disappointed us in this paper. Jupiter's moon, Io, exhibits an anomaly that seems to call for a radical explanation. Io's volcanos erupt with such violence that molten material is flung to heights of 250 kilometers. These outbursts proceed from caldera, and one is led to assume that normal volcanic action is to blame. Unfortunately for this simplistic idea, Io does not seem to possess low-molecular-weight substances, such as water, that could serve as a good propellant at reasonable temperatures. Sulphur is common, but its atomic weight is so high that temperatures exceeding 6000K would be required to shoot matter out to 250 kilometers. Gold suggests that Io's volcanos get their firepower from electrical sources. He points out that Io short-circuits Jupiter's ring current periodically. Gold estimates that 5 million amperes flow through Io when it passes through the ring current. The energetic eruptions and caldera might therefore be electric-arc phenomena. The electrical energies available are sufficient to account for the observed outbursts.

(Gold, Thomas; "Electrical Origin of the Outbursts on Io," Science, 206:1071, 1979.)

Comment. Several scientists and non-scientists have proposed in the past that the sunspots and even some planetary craters result from large-scale electrical arcing within the solar system.

Reference. Io is anomalous in several other ways. See our Section AJX in: The Moon and the Planets. To order, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #10, Spring 1980. 1980-2000 William R. Corliss