Close Encounters with a Volcanic World
NASA’s Juno spacecraft has beamed back some of the closest-ever images of Jupiter’s moon Io, revealing a world blanketed in volcanoes. The spacecraft came within 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) of Io on February 3, following a similar pass just over a month ago.
Unveiling Io’s Volcanic Mysteries
Planetary scientists hope these flybys will answer fundamental questions about Io, a mysterious moon known for its intense volcanic activity. The twin flybys aim to provide insights into how Io’s volcanic engine works and whether a global magma ocean exists beneath its rocky surface.
A Moon Teeming with Volcanoes
Io contains hundreds of active volcanoes, many of which are hot enough for Juno to detect their heat on the moon’s surface. The images captured by Juno show prominent mound-like volcanoes and darker areas where lava may have recently flowed.
Processed Images for Clarity
The images have been processed by professional and amateur image processors to remove noise and distortion. These are the closest views of Io captured in over two decades.
Io’s Volcanic Activity
Io’s relentless tug-of-war with nearby objects, including Jupiter and its Galilean siblings, Europa and Ganymede, is responsible for its intense volcanic activity. The gravitational forces continuously stretch and squeeze Io, leading to the creation of lava that erupts from its many volcanoes.
Signs of Activity on Io
In recent months, Juno has spotted clear signs of activity on Io, including a hazy plume observed over the volcano Prometheus. Similar plumes were captured by NASA’s Galileo mission in 2000.
Scientific Exploration and Discovery
Planetary scientists will meticulously study the new images and data collected by Juno over the coming weeks, months, and years. These observations could reveal whether or not a lava ocean exists beneath Io’s hardened lava crust.
As Ashley Davies, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, remarked, “It is the purest form of discovery. We’re seeing things that we have never seen before.”