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Jupiter’s moon Io is an eruptive mystery. Based on scientific models, the tiny Jovian moon’s volcanoes flare up in the “wrong” places. How could that be? Well apparently, our models didn’t account for a massive subsurface ocean of lava.

That’s right: According to a new NASA study, Io may be hiding an ocean of molten rock, powered by a process known as tidal heating. Lava oceans are fascinating in their own right, but this discovery also bears important implications for the prospects of life beyond Earth. A similar heating mechanism also could fuel subsurface oceans beneath the icy moons Europa (in orbit around Jupiter) and Enceladus (in orbit around Saturn) — two of the most promising candidates for extraterrestrial life.

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