NASA’s Juno mission completed its 51st close flyby of Jupiter, capturing stunning images of its moon Io.
Juno flew past Io on Tuesday, May 16 in a flyby that brought it close to the volcanic moon of Jupiter than ever before. The spacecraft passed just 22,060 miles (35,500 kilometers) from the surface of the Jovian moon.
If this Jovian moon appears tranquil in these images, then looks can be deceiving. Io isn’t just the most volcanic moon orbiting the gas giant; it’s also the most volcanic world of all solar system.
Some of the detailed images taken by Juno and its visible light imager JunoCam show Io’s red surface marked by its fire volcanoes. An infrared view of the moon captured the day before the flyby by Juno’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) shows the source of this scarring, revealing multiple hotspots of volcanic activity on the moon’s surface.
Related: Io: A Guide to Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon
“Io is the most volcanic celestial body we know of in our solar system,” said Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton. said in a statement before the flyby. “By observing it over time over multiple passes, we can observe how volcanoes vary – how often they erupt, how bright and hot they are, whether they are group-bound or solo, and whether the shape of the lava flow changes.”
NASA estimates that there are hundreds of active erupting volcanoes on the surface of Io, Jupiter’s third-largest moon, and gas giant’s fifth-largest moon located about 262,000 miles (422,000 kilometers) from its surface. These volcanoes can shoot lava tens of kilometers into the thin, waterless atmosphere of Io, which itself is about the size of earth moon.
This extreme volcanic activity is believed to result from the enormous gravitational influence of Jupiter, the most massive planet in the solar system, as it plays a game of “tug of war” with Io against its other major Jovian moons. Europe And Ganymede. This gives rise to tremendous tidal forces which have the effect of crushing and compressing Io, causing its surface to swell up and down, or in and out, up to 330 feet (100 meters). ).
Even before Jupiter’s 51st flyby, since arriving on the gas giant in 2016, the Juno spacecraft had traveled more than 510 million miles make close encounters with three of the four largest moons on the planet, the icy moons Europa and Ganymede, and the fiery moon Io. The four large moons, including Frozen Callisto, are collectively known as the “Galilean Moons” after Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who first observed them in 1610.
“We are entering another amazing part of Juno’s mission as we get closer and closer to Io with successive orbits. This 51st orbit will provide our closest look yet at this tortured moon,” said Bolton. “Our upcoming flybys in July and October will bring us even closer, leading to our twin encounters with Io in December this year and February next year when we fly within 1,500 kilometers of its surface.”
Juno was not designed to study these moons; its instruments and sensors were rather intended to study the atmosphere and the interior of Jupiter. Yet despite this, during its 50 flybys of the gas giant, the NASA craft was able to collect vital data on the jovian moons and, as this overview illustrates, incredible images.
“All of these flybys provide spectacular views of the volcanic activity on this amazing moon,” Bolton concluded. “The data should be incredible.”
Jupiter’s large moons will come under closer scrutiny when the JUpiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) reaches them in 2031. Juice will search for the conditions on the oceanic moons of Europa and Ganymede that would be needed to support the existence of life.