- NASA’s Juno spacecraft has taken an infrared image of Jupiter’s moon Io.
- Io is the most volcanically active body in our solar system, and its surface is dotted with lava lakes.
- Juno is expected to fly past the Jovian moon again on December 15, in the first of nine flybys.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured an infrared image of Jupiter’s moon Io from 50,000 miles away.
In the image, taken on July 5 and released on Wednesday, the shapes of lava flows and lava lakes can be seen as bright red blobs.
“You can see volcanic hot spots. We were able to monitor over the course of the primary mission — over 30 orbits — how this changes and evolves,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator on NASA’s Juno spacecraft, at a news event. on Wednesday the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Io is home to hundreds of volcanoes, NASA has found. Surprisingly, the scientists found more volcanic spots in the polar region than in the planet’s equatorial region, Bolton said.
The Juno space probe has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016. After studying the gas giant, Juno flew past Jupiter’s moon Ganymede in 2021 and past Europa earlier this year.
The spacecraft is scheduled to explore Io, which NASA says is “the most volcanic place in the solar system,” also on Dec. 15. It’s the first of nine flybys Juno has planned over the next year and a half.
Scientists hope to glean more data about the moon’s volcanoes and its magnetism — which play a “tug of war” to form Jupiter’s auroras — as they fly.
“As we watch the volcanoes change and become active and less active, they are driving Jupiter’s giant monster magnetosphere,” Bolton said Wednesday.
Auroras are colorful displays of light that aren’t unique to Earth. Jupiter has the brightest auroras in the solar system, according to NASA.
On both Earth and Jupiter, auroras occur when charged particles, such as protons or electrons, interact with the magnetic field, known as the magnetosphere, that surrounds a planet. Jupiter’s magnetic field is about 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s.
The data and insights Juno gathers could help inform future missions to study Jupiter’s moons, such as NASA’s Clipper mission, which will investigate whether Europa could support life.