Time variability of Io's volcanic activity from near-IR adaptive optics observations on 100 nights in 2013–2015

Katherine de Kleer*, Imke de Pater

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Jupiter's moon Io is a dynamic target, exhibiting extreme and time-variable volcanic activity powered by tidal forcing from Jupiter. We have conducted a campaign of high-cadence observations of Io with the goal of characterizing its volcanic activity. Between Aug 2013 and the end of 2015, we imaged Io on 100 nights in the near-infrared with adaptive optics on the Keck and Gemini N telescopes, which resolve emission from individual volcanic hot spots. During our program, we made over 400 detections of 48 distinct hot spots, some of which were detected 30+ times. We use these observations to derive a timeline of global volcanic activity on Io, which exhibits wide variability from month to month. The timelines of thermal activity at individual volcanic centers have geophysical implications, and will permit future characterization by others. We evaluate hot spot detection limits and give a simple parameterization of the minimum detectable intensity as a function of emission angle, which can be applied to other analyses. We detected three outburst eruptions in August 2013, but no other outburst-scale events were observed in the subsequent ∼90 observations. Either the cluster of events in August 2013 was a rare occurrence, or there is a mechanism causing large events to occur closely-spaced in time. We also detected large eruptions (though not of outburst scale) within days of one another at Kurdalagon Patera and Sethlaus/Gabija Paterae in 2015. As was also seen in the Galileo dataset, the hot spots we detected can be separated into two categories based on their thermal emission: those that are persistently active for 1 year or more at moderate intensity, and those that are only briefly active, are time-variable, and often reach large intensities. A small number of hot spots in the latter category appear and subside in a matter of days, reaching particularly high intensities; although these are not bright enough to qualify as outbursts, their thermal signatures follow the same pattern, suggesting that a similar mechanism may be responsible for these events though at a smaller scale. Two eruptions seen at Kurdalagon Patera in January and April 2015 occurred simultaneously with a brightening of the neutral cloud and plasma torus which are sourced from Io's atmosphere. A plume at Kurdalagon Patera, such as was seen by New Horizons in 2007, could have been responsible for the influx of material that caused these brightenings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-404
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Adaptive optics
  • Infrared observations
  • Io
  • Spectroscopy
  • Volcanism


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