What Is an Ice Volcano?

Pluto's Wright Mons cryovolcano. It's named after the Wright Brothers. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Try saying the words ice volcano without smiling a little at the wonders of the universe and how fortunate we are to live in an age of celestial discovery. The simple knowledge that such a thing as an ice volcano, or cryovolcano, exists would be reward enough, but it's doubly exciting to realize that such geologic marvels are now common knowledge, and that our children will no more blink in astonishment at the concept than the older generation does at a standard-issue lava-spewing volcano in the Pacific.

First observed in 1989 by the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it passed Triton, Neptune's largest moon, cryovolcanoes are again in the news because of data recently returned from the New Horizons spacecraft. Possible ice volcanoes—which are exactly what the name sounds like—have been discovered on Pluto, and they might have been active recently, in geologic terms.

WHAT IS A CRYOVOLCANO?

Think back to the classroom volcano diorama you made in grade school. Little mountain, maybe trees and plastic dinosaurs (because every grade school project is improved with dinosaurs). In our model, red food coloring, baking soda, and vinegar are meant to simulate what's going on when an Earthly volcano erupts. Magma, which is molten rock and volatile, builds up pressure until the ground gives way and it spews forth from vents in the Earth's surface.

This sometimes looks like the occasional, seemingly apocalyptic eruptions of Volcán de Colima in Mexico. And sometimes it looks like the gentle flows in the Pacific islands where you can hire a tour guide and observe lava streams as they roll along.

A cryovolcano isn't all that different. Like an Earth volcano, it results from pressure beneath a celestial surface. Rather than molten rock, however, as the name "ice volcano" suggests, cryovolcanoes are the eruptions of molten ice, sometimes called cryomagma. They can erupt violently or flow gently, just like the volcanoes on Earth. The gentle "tour guide" eruptions are believed to be like flowing slurries.

When you read about "plumes" emanating from planets—the plumes of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, perhaps being the most famous—you're reading about a cryovolcanic eruption. These are extremely important to planetary science, as such plumes allow for the direct sampling of a celestial body's subsurface without the need to build a prohibitively expensive lander or rover. Last year, the spacecraft Cassini flew through one of one of Enceladus's plumes, taking samples for scientific analysis.

VOLCANIC SNOW AND OTHER AWESOMENESS

Plutonian ice volcanoes are exciting in part because of their size, but also because together they make up yet another surprising feature of a wildly complex, geologically active world. As if ice mountains and nitrogen glaciers weren't enough, one cryovolcano, called Wright Mons (named after the Wright Brothers, and pictured above) is two-and-a-half miles tall and spread across 90 miles. Piccard Mons is even taller.  

Here is TomoNews's quirky animated take on Pluto's cryovolcanoes. 

Wright Mons is thought to have been active very recently in geologic terms, as only a single impact crater has been found on the surface around the volcano. Craters help determine the age of a celestial object's surface. An old surface will be very heavily cratered; a young surface will not. It falls to planetary scientists to collectively play the role of Sherlock Holmes, taking in all of the geologic and cosmic evidence available to work out what processes are at work on a world to renew its surface.

Pluto, Enceladus, and Earth, of course, aren't the only bodies in the solar system with volcanoes. Titan, one of Saturn's moons, has possible cryovolcanoes that are shaped much like those on Earth. The reigning champion of active volcanism in the solar system is Io, Jupiter's moon, which spews Earth-like silicate lava. Io's volcanism is the result of the massive tidal forces of the giant planet it orbits. These tidal forces cause internal friction that, in turn, produces tremendous heat. Because Io is so cold, its volcanic eruptions sometimes produce "volcanic snow," which is exactly what it sounds like.

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6 Signs You're Getting Hangry
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Hangry (adjective): Bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger. This portmanteau (of hungry and angry) is not only officially recognized as a word by the Oxford English Dictionary, but it's also recognized by health experts as a real physiological state with mood-altering consequences.

That hangry feeling results from your body's glucose level dropping, putting you into a state of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Glucose is the body's primary source of energy, so when you don't have enough, it affects your brain and other bodily functions, including the production of the hormones insulin and glucagon, which help regulate blood sugar. Check out the symptoms below to see if you've crossed over into the hanger danger zone.

1. IT TAKES EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER JUST TO KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN.

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Glucose equals energy, so when your blood sugar levels are low, you may start wishing you were back in bed with the shades drawn. If you start feeling sluggish or tired even though you’re well-rested, you might just need to eat something.

2. THE EASIEST ITEM ON YOUR TO-DO LIST SEEMS LIKE AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK …

It’s hard to concentrate when all you can think about is whether you're going to order the fish or beef tacos for lunch. The distraction goes beyond fantasies about food, though. The brain derives most of its energy from glucose, so when it's low on fuel, a serious case of brain fog can set in. Confusion and difficulty speaking are among the more serious symptoms you may experience when you're hangry.

3. … AND YOU HAVE A BAD CASE OF WORD VOMIT.

Blame this on brain fog too. The gray matter in your noggin goes a little haywire when blood sugar is in short supply. That's why you may start stuttering or slurring your words. You might also have difficulty finding your words at all—it can feel like your mouth and brain are disconnected.

4. YOU’RE SHAKING LIKE A LEAF AND FEEL LIGHTHEADED.

Tremors and dizziness are both signs that you should pay closer attention to your body, which is screaming, "Feed me!" Once again, low blood sugar is often the culprit of trembling hands and feeling faint, and exhaustion and stress make the symptoms worse.

5. YOUR COWORKERS SEEM ESPECIALLY ANNOYING.

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You’re tense and irritable, and it’s starting to show. Hunger causes your body to release cortisol and adrenaline, the same hormones responsible for stress. This can put you on edge and lower your tolerance for other people’s quirks and irksome habits, which suddenly seem a lot less bearable.

6. YOU SNAPPED AT YOUR FRIEND OR PARTNER FOR NO GOOD REASON.

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Not only are you irritable, but you’re more likely to lash out at others because of it. The doses of adrenaline and cortisol in your body can induce a fight-or-flight response and make you go on the attack over matters that—if you had some food in you—would seem unimportant.

So what should you do if these descriptions sound all too familiar? Eat a snack, pronto—one with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. The first one brings up your blood sugar level, and the other two slow down how fast the carbohydrates are absorbed, helping you to avoid a sugar crash and maintain a normal blood sugar level. Eating small meals every few hours also helps to keep hanger at bay.

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Astronomers Discover 12 New Moons Around Jupiter
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As the largest planet with the largest moon in our solar system, Jupiter is a body of record-setting proportions. The fifth planet from the Sun also boasts the most moons—and scientists just raised the count to 79.

A team of astronomers led by Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science confirmed the existence of 12 additional moons of Jupiter, 11 of which are “normal” outer moons, according to a statement from the institute. The outlier is being called an “oddball” for its bizarre orbit and diminutive size, which is about six-tenths of a mile in diameter.

The moons were first observed in the spring of 2017 while scientists looked for theoretical planet beyond Pluto, but several additional observations were needed to confirm that the celestial bodies were in fact orbiting around Jupiter. That process took a year.

“Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant solar system objects, so we were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our solar system,” Sheppard said in a statement.

Nine of the "normal" moons take about two years to orbit Jupiter in retrograde, or counter to the direction in which Jupiter spins. Scientists believe these moons are what’s left of three larger parent bodies that splintered in collisions with asteroids, comets, or other objects. The two other "normal" moons orbit in the prograde (same direction as Jupiter) and take less than a year to travel around the planet. They’re also thought to be chunks of a once-larger moon.

The oddball, on the other hand, is “more distant and more inclined” than the prograde moons. Although it orbits in prograde, it crosses the orbits of the retrograde moons, which could lead to some head-on collisions. The mass is believed to be Jupiter’s smallest moon, and scientists have suggested naming it Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, who happens to be the great-granddaughter of the god Jupiter.

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