by Wal Thornhill

from Website

THOTH Newsletter, VOL V, No 5, April 15, 2001


It is well known that there is an electrical connection between Jupiter and its inner Galilean moon, Io. However, when plumes of matter were discovered jetting into space the immediate interpretation by geologists was that they must be volcanic. The intense volcanism on Io is explained by the notion of rhythmic 100 meter high tides as it orbits Jupiter with a slight eccentricity. But such an obvious answer leaves many mysteries. For example, what makes the lava on Io much hotter than any on Earth? Why are the plumes filamentary? How do the volcanoes move tens of kilometers in a few years? Why is the fallout deposited in rings?

New photos from NASA show the ring deposits around old and new eruptions on Io:

These oddities make it unlikely that we are looking at volcanoes or hot lava on Io. So why do NASA scientists leap to weak tidal effects to explain what is happening on Io’s surface when it has been calculated that the voltage induced across Io is 400 thousand volts and the observed current flowing in its vicinity is about one million amperes? (Note that these figures may be an underestimate because they assume that the Jupiter system is electrically closed. Evidence [exists] ... that this is not so.)


Part of the answer probably lies in the fact that neither volcanoes nor lightning are well understood on Earth. Also it is traditional that geologists are asked to pronounce on such matters. So it has been easy to suggest that the electrical power passes around Io rather than into it. Geologists can then ignore the obvious electrical scarring features on Io but they are then forced into far-fetched explanations.

There is a little known behavior of lightning that seems to be at work on that small moon. That is, lightning’s ability to accelerate material upwards from a surface against the force of gravity. Of course, lightning on Io is not going to look anything like earthly lightning because it has no atmosphere to speak of. It will take the form of a diffuse glow discharge. Plumes have been seen with no attachment to an identifiable volcanic caldera. Io glows visibly when eclipsed by Jupiter. Did no one recognize the obvious electrical activity on Io?

It is clear that Thomas Gold is a scientist that you ignore at your peril. In the journal, Science, of 30 November, 1979, he published an article titled “Electric Origin of the Outburst on Io." The abstract reads in part:

“The outbursts on Jupiter’s satellite Io have been described as volcanic eruptions. They may instead be the result of large electric currents flowing through hot spots on Io and causing evaporation of surface materials.”

Gold made several telling arguments for such an interpretation:

1)  for the plume to reach heights of several hundred kilometers it would require a volatile propellant capable of accelerating surface material to speeds of 1 kilometer per second.
2)  with incessant activity, in a small fraction of geologic time all of the volatiles would be driven off.
3)  heavy sulfur atoms form compounds that are not ideal as a propellant.

In a 1987 paper in Astrophysics and Space Science, plasma physicists Peratt and Dessler supported Gold’s interpretation and went into more detail. They explain the jets in terms of a plasma-arc discharge. The high velocity and parabolic cross-section of the plumes are derived from laboratory plasma experiments. The filamentary penumbra and convergence of ejecta into well-defined rings are characteristic plasma discharge effects that have no counterpart in volcanoes.

See pictures and more info on Wal Thornhill’s website at
(click images to go to place of origin):

Reports have expressed surprise at the high temperatures measured at the hot spots on Io. They have been headlined as being the second hottest objects in the solar system, following the Sun. Such a result fits the notion of the hot spots being the touchdown points of electric arcs. The wandering of the hot spots over tens of kilometers, their preference for the edges of earlier cratering, the production of circular edged scalloping to give a fretted appearance, seen to advantage in ... clasp[s] of Io ..., are all characteristic of electric arc machining but have no coherent explanation in volcanic terms. ... [T]he brightly colored “lava fountains” [seen on press release photos] ... were painted in by NASA artists. In the original image whatever was occurring there was too bright for Galileo’s camera to register. If they were hot spots created by electric arcs then it would be like trying to film an arc welder in action. When we finally get cameras to Io that can register bright light in fine detail we will find tiny points of light brighter than the Sun.

Io will be a unique and valuable laboratory to begin to understand some of the electrical scarring suffered by comets, asteroids, moons and planets. Ironically, it may also help us to understand lightning and volcanoes here on Earth. For example, for reasons unknown to geologists, eruptive activity is greatest on both Io and the Earth at mid-latitudes. Also it is known that here on Earth powerful lightning is often associated with volcanic eruptions. Now, in plasma experiments where a magnetized ball is placed in a vacuum and subjected to an electric discharge, the ball has a plasma torus form around the equator - which then discharges to the mid-latitudes of the ball. Can it be that volcanoes here on Earth are connected to electrical activity in space via the lightning above them? Are volcanoes a result of an underground electrical discharge? Also, lightning and strange electrical and magnetic effects are often reported to precede and accompany strong earthquakes. Are earthquakes a different manifestation of the same phenomena?

Other suggested Web site URL’s for more information about Catastrophics: