Loki the Volcano

There has been lots of talk in Baton Rouge about ice, snow, and cold. Let’s change focus and talk about something hot: volcanoes! The planetarium is about to debut its latest show “Super Volcanoes” which gives audiences a front row seat to some of Earth’s largest volcanic eruptions. The show features extensive live action footage of geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park, as well as a complex simulation of an eruption of the Solar System’s largest active volcano, Loki.

Loki can be found on Jupiter’s moon Io. Named for the Norse God of Mischief (or comic book villain if you prefer), this volcano is considered to be the hottest and most powerful in the Solar System. Loki is officially called Loki Patera which means “Loki Basin”. Loki is not a tall volcano, it has no cone. It is the opposite, a large depression in Io’s surface that is filled with lava. Loki alone puts out more heat than all of Earth’s volcanoes combined!

lokiplumeVolcanism was discovered on Io by Voyager back in the 1970s. Up until this point people thought Earth was the only place with such active geology. Initially it was surprising to discover this much activity on such a tiny world. Scientists thought that since larger bodies (such as the other rocky planets, and larger moons) appeared to have thoroughly cooled and stopped exhibiting signs of active volcanism, tiny bodies such as Io wouldn’t exhibit it either. Voyager snapped photos of Io’s surface, showing large volcanic scars as well as plumes of ash reaching into the skies. Io had even more volcanic activity than Earth!

So why is this? As we rub our hands together to stay warm in this winter weather we’re having here in Baton Rouge, consider the moon Io. Io orbits closest to Jupiter out of the four largest moons. The combination of tidal forces from Jupiter, tidal forces from the other large moons, as well as the shape of Io’s orbit all play a role. The constant tugging on Io is thought to cause friction and internal heat inside the moon. Kind of like when you rub your hands together but a lot more so!

lokiarealIo has mountains and plains, as well as different types of volcanoes. Loki is thought to be a large lake of lava. Images taken from spacecraft show a large dark depression (almost 130 miles across!) with steep edges. Thermal studies have shown that the surface is extremely hot, likely due to a large pool of lava covered by a thin crust. The crusts of these lava lakes can become disrupted, triggering a wave across the lake. The denser crust sinks below the molten rock beneath causing the lake to resurface itself.  Scientists are still unsure about how Loki-type volcanoes form on Io. They could form from a collapsed volcano (this occurs on Earth and they are known as Caldarae), or they could be created from an impact of a large meteor into the surface.

Images of spacecraft have also shown plumes of volcanic material being ejected from Loki that have reached nearly 150 Km above the surface (that’s higher than the International Space Station orbits above Earth!). In “Super Volcanoes” audiences will travel to Loki and witness what this eruption might look like from the surface!

If you haven’t already, check out the trailer for “Super Volcanoes”, opening February 1 at the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium.

ISS Celebrates 15 Years in Space- See if you can locate it while looking for Comet ISON

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The connected Zarya and Unity modules after Unity was released from the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s cargo bay.

Fifteen years ago on  Nov. 20, 1998, the Roscosmos (the former Russian Space Agency) launched a Proton rocket that sent the Zarya module into space.  This was the first section of the International Space Station.  Two weeks later on Dec. 4, the United States launched the Unity module making the 2 modules a real international space station.

The ISS is now the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon.  If you know where and when to look you can easily see it without a telescope, and NASA’s Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston can tell you when and where.  Log onto Nasa.gov to receive e-mail or text alerts a few hours before the ISS will be passing over your area.  If you sign up soon you might even be able to spot it while “comet hunting” during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Comet ISON is Coming!

Comet ISON is Coming!

Get ready everyone! Comet ISON is approaching the Sun, and is expected to be visible in the pre-dawn sky as early as this weekend. Check back with us for all things Comet ISON: comet updates, photography tips, and more. Don’t forget to come visit LASM to view “Vagabonds of the Solar System: Comets Past and Present” exhibition opens November 19th!

Curiosity Travel Log: 9/23/2013; Odometer reading 2852m

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The view today from Curiosity’s Nav Cam

Since its one year anniversary on August 6th., Curiosity has traveled 1,079.52m (3,541′) or about the length of 12 football fields.  That’s an average of 22m per day which is short of NASA’s goal of at least 110m per day.  But during this period, Curiosity did have its longest drive of the mission when on 9/5 it advanced 138.62m. On that day the drive was extended well beyond what the Curiosity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena could see by enabling the rover’s on-board hazard avoidance system or Autonav.

4 Days Until Curiosity Celebrates 1st Anniversary on Mars

4 Days Until Curiosity's 1 year anniversary on Mars

Foothills of Mt. Sharp

Next Tuesday is the 1 year anniversary of Curiosity’s landing on Mars. Curiosity will celebrate the day by continuing to drive slowly toward Mt. Sharp. Mt. Sharp is a little over 3 miles high and is in the center of Gale Crater. It began the 5 mile journey to the foot hills of Mt. Sharp on July 7 and should arrive in 9 months to a year. So far Curiosity’s farthest distance traveled in one day was on July 21 when it went 100.3 m.

Curiosity Rover's Self Portrait at 'John Klein...

Curiosity Rover’s Self Portrait at ‘John Klein’ Drilling Site, Cropped (2013) (Photo credit: Euclid vanderKroew)

The distance traveled yesterday was 85.14 m. NASA had hoped it would travel at least 110m per day.  Maybe by next Tuesday Curiosity will break another record but with a top speed over flat hard ground of  just .09 mph that might be asking a little too much.

New Show: Dynamic Earth

Coming July 2, 2013!

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Get excited, our new lineup of planetarium shows begins this Tuesday!

Explore the inner workings of Earth’s climate system. With visualizations based on satellite monitoring data and advanced supercomputer simulations, this cutting-edge production follows a trail of energy that flows from the Sun into the interlocking systems that shape our climate: the atmosphere, oceans, and the biosphere. Audiences will ride along on swirling ocean and wind currents, dive into the heart of a monster hurricane, come face-to-face with sharks and gigantic whales, and fly into roiling volcanoes.