NASA’s Juno Mission is studying our solar system’s largest planet Jupiter.
However, as it’s gathering a plethora of scientific information and snapping images of the gas giant, the spacecraft is also observing Jupiter’s moons.
As the spacecraft is orbiting Jupiter, it has the opportunity to observe the many moons orbiting Jupiter.
On its recent swing around Jupiter, the spacecraft has spotted something extremely interesting on Io; Volcanic Activity.
Io happens to be the most volcanically active moon in the Solar System and we can observe these volcanos thanks to the spacecraft we have zipping through the solar system.
Io orbits the gas giant at an approximate distance of 422,000 kilometers.
Scientists wanted to see Io under specific lighting conditions.
They wanted to observe Io in low-luminosity so experts waited.
Then, a solar Eclipse on December 21 provided them with a perfect opportunity, when Io was in the shadow of Jupiter and was illuminated by Europa. This mixture of cosmic conditions allowed Io’s most fascinating features to come to light.
“We knew we were breaking new ground with a multi-spectral campaign to view Io’s polar region, but no one expected we would get so lucky as to see an active volcanic plume shooting material off the moon’s surface,” explained Scott Bolton, principal investigator of the Juno mission and an associate vice president of Southwest Research Institute’s Space Science and Engineering Division.
“This is quite a New Year’s present showing us that Juno has the ability to clearly see plumes.”
Using the JunoCam, scientists managed to photograph a number of images before the eclipse, which shows a stunning view of the swirling clouds of Jupiter.
The most fascinating image, however, was the one the space captured as the moon was half-illuminated, with a plume clearly visible over Io’s surface, clearly visible as a bright spot in the shadow of the eclipse.
“The ground is already in shadow, but the height of the plume allows it to reflect sunlight, much like the way mountaintops or clouds on the Earth continue to be lit after the sun has set,” said Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, the JunoCam lead from the Planetary Science Institute.