Flagstaff Scientist Models Mountains on Jupiter’s Moon Io

Jun 2, 2016

A Flagstaff scientist has a new idea about how mountains form on Io, the volcanic moon of Jupiter. 

A volcanic eruption on Io, captured by the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

Michael Bland of the U.S. Geological Survey created a mathematical model to explain Io’s unusual mountains. They’re tall isolated peaks surrounded by pools of lava. 

As volcanoes spew magma onto the surface, layers of rock are pressed downward. Bland says the pressure creates cracks deep in Io’s crust, which funnel upward to make mountains.

“So that is a fundamentally different process than the way most mountains form on Earth,” Bland says, “in which a lot of times the deformation is occurring closer to the surface.”  

The cracking also releases more magma, which keeps the cycle going.

Bland says you don’t see this anywhere else in the solar system, but something similar may have happened on early Earth billions of years ago.

This research appeared recently in Nature Geoscience.