Jupiter’s “pizza moon” Io was last year rocked by some of the most powerful volcanic eruptions ever witnessed beyond Earth. Astronomers captured images of three giant eruptions on Jupiter’s moon over a two-week period in August 2013. However, NASA released the photos only a year later on Monday, August 4, 2014.

Jupiter's Moon Rocked By Three Giant Volcanic Eruptions

Jupiter’s pizza moon features volcanoes of hot lava and molten rock

Scientists were surprised by the frequency of eruptions because only 13 monster eruptions have been observed on Io between 1978 and 2006. Imke de Pater of the University of California and lead author of the study said they expected only one giant eruption every one or two years. Three extremely bright outbursts in a two-week span means many more eruptions could be observed on Io frequently.

Io is about 2,300 miles wide. It is similar in size as out Earth’s moon. Astronomers frequently refer to it as “pizza moon” because volcanoes give it a pockmarked look. Io is the only known solar system body besides Earth that features volcanoes of molten rock and extremely hot lava.Most planets and moons feature frigid cryovolcanoes.

Scientists using Jupiter’s moon as a volcanic laboratory

The gravitation force of Jupiter and neighboring moons pull hard of the pizza moon. Consequently, its insides heat up, leading to giant volcanic eruptions. Two of the giant volcanoes erupted on August 15, 2013. They produced lava flows that covered 120 square miles and 50 square miles of area, respectively. The third one, which occurred on August 29, was the most powerful. Scientists said it was the brightest eruption ever observed on Io.

Scientists spotted and studies these volcanoes using multiple instruments including NASA’s Infrared Telescope, and Keck II and Gemini North telescopes. These observations will help astronomers better understand Jupiter’s Io moon. They also have broader applications because it’s the extreme volcanism that shaped the surface of Earth and Venus. Pater said this information will provide more details about the physical processes involved in the heating and cooling on Io. Researchers are using Io as a volcanic laboratory.

Findings of the study appeared in the journal Icarus.