Juno spacecraft will make a historic close approach to Jupiter’s moon Io, revealing the secrets of its volcanoes

On July 30, the solar-powered Juno spacecraft is scheduled to make its closest flyby of Jupiter’s moon Io. The mission will mark a major milestone in the exploration of Jupiter’s system since Juno was launched in 2011. The spacecraft will approach Io up to 13,700 miles (22,000 kilometers) away, giving scientists an unprecedented insight into the moon’s volcanic activity.

Io, known for its fiery nature, is in constant motion due to the gravitational forces of Jupiter and its neighboring moons, Europa and Ganymede. Io is constantly being stretched and compressed by these forces, resulting in a landscape dotted with numerous active volcanoes spewing molten lava and sulfurous gases.

The primary instrument aboard Juno on this mission will be the Italian-designed JIRAM (Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper), which was originally intended to study Jupiter’s polar aurora. However, its ability to detect heat sources has proved invaluable in identifying active volcanoes on Io. By collecting data during each flyby, JIRAM and other scientific instruments aboard Juno are contributing to a better understanding of Io’s surface features and their evolution over time.

During Juno’s previous flyby of Io on May 16, the JunoCam took an image from a distance of 22,100 miles (35,600 kilometers), showing changes in the Volunda region near the equator. A particularly interesting discovery for planetologists was the westward expansion of the lava field and the presence of fresh lava flows around another volcano north of Volund. These observations provide valuable insights into the dynamic nature of Io’s volcanic activity.

In addition, JIRAM obtained images of Loki Patera, the largest volcanic depression on Io at 125 miles (202 km) long. The findings indicate the possibility of an active volcano in the northwestern region, as well as signs of a potential lava lake forming to the south and east. Understanding whether these lava lakes receive a constant influx of material from underground chambers is critical to unraveling the volcanic processes on Io.

Scientists on the Juno mission express enthusiasm for the upcoming flyby, as the data collected will make a significant contribution to understanding Io’s volcanic activity. Juno’s close approach to Io during the flyby will allow for detailed observations and measurements that were previously impossible.

This mission demonstrates the remarkable capabilities of Juno and its instruments, shedding light on the mysteries of Io’s volcanic landscape. As Juno continues its long mission, scientists look forward to making new discoveries that will deepen our knowledge of Jupiter’s moon and its geologic processes.

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