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Science & Technology

Not Just Dead Rocks: Planetary Moons Spew Lava, Rain Methane

On Jupiter’s moon Io, lava sweeps across the surface and shoots in a giant arc hundreds of miles into space. Saturn’s moon Titan, meanwhile, has lakes made of liquid methane and is decorated with mountains, lakes, rivers, and cryovolcanoes. For geologist Jani Radebaugh, the marvels of these distant moons never cease to amaze. 

As a member of various research teams working on planetary satellite exploration missions, she travels to the far reaches of the earth to better understand what life is like on those far-distant moons: substitute a lava lake on Vanuatu for a lava lake on Io, or sand dunes in the Sahara for the sand dunes on Titan. When she’s not analyzing the geology of planetary bodies, she’s collecting meteorites in Antarctica – space rocks that once emerged from Mars and earth’s own moon.

As part of Astronomy Days at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, Radebaugh will share her work and explain the significance of recent snapshots of Ultima Thule, an object located 4.1 billion miles away from Earth in the Kuiper Belt.

Host Frank Stasio speaks with Radebaugh ahead of her appearance at Astronomy Days on Saturday, Jan. 26 and Sunday, Jan 27. The event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 1969. Radebaugh is a professor in the Department of Geology at Brigham Young University and a member of the Cassini Radar Science Team, Dragonfly Mission Science Team and Io Volcanoes Observer Team

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