An illustration showing Juno's close flyby of Io and Jupiter. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Kevin M. Gill (CC BY); Thomas Thomopoulos (CC BY)

NASA’s Juno spacecraft closest flyby of Io

Launched in 2011, the solar-powered spacecraft began scrutinizing the Jovian system in 2016, marking its third year of its extended mission on July 31.


NASA’s Juno, the solar-powered spacecraft, sets its sight on Jupiter’s blazing moon, Io, for a closer observation scheduled on July 30. On Sunday, July 30, Juno, NASA’s mission to Jupiter, gears up to make its closest flyby to date over Io, Jupiter’s fiery moon. The spacecraft will approach as close as 13,700 miles (22,000 kilometers). The data gathered by the Italian-designed JIRAM (Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper) and other scientific instruments should deliver in-depth knowledge about the countless volcanoes belching molten lava and sulfurous gases on the moon, which is riddled with volcanoes.

Juno Continues Making History

“While JIRAM’s initial purpose was to investigate Jupiter’s polar aurora, its ability to detect heat sources has become crucial in our search for active volcanoes on Io,” commented Scott Bolton, Juno’s Principal Investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “As we come nearer with each flyby, the data from JIRAM and other onboard instruments enrich our understanding of the moon’s surface features and their evolution over time.”

Launched in 2011, the solar-powered spacecraft began scrutinizing the Jovian system in 2016, marking its third year of its extended mission on July 31. Io, slightly larger than Earth’s moon, is a world in perpetual unrest. Its Galilean siblings, Europa and Ganymede, along with the solar system’s largest planet, incessantly tug at it gravitationally. As a result, Io is continually stretched and squeezed, inciting the lava flow observed from its myriad of volcanoes.


Spotting Changes in Volund Region

During Juno’s latest flyby of Io on May 16, the JunoCam imager snapped a photo from 22,100 miles (35,600 kilometers) away, revealing a smudge in Io’s Volund region, near the equator— a telltale sign for planetary scientists. “Noticing changes in the Volund region, where the lava field has expanded westward and fresh lava flows surround another volcano north of Volund, was thrilling,” shared Jason Perry from the University of Arizona’s HiRISE Operations Center in Tucson. “Io’s extreme volcanic activity is well-known, but seeing these transformations up close after 16 years is fascinating.”

On the same May 16 journey, JIRAM spotted its own noteworthy sign. The infrared imager, designed by the Italian Space Agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, managed to capture Loki Patera, Io’s largest volcanic depression, which spans 125 miles (202 kilometers). The data, which details what could be an active volcano, has the team eager for the upcoming flyby.

Unraveling Volcanic Activities

“The data suggests that lava might be surfacing in the northwest area and forming a lava lake to the south and east,” mentioned Alessandro Mura, co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. “It’s vital to determine if a lava lake is receiving a steady supply of material from an underground chamber. The data from this and future flybys will be key to understanding Io’s volcanic activity.”


Collaboration with European Scientists

On July 17, Bolton and other mission members collaborated with 49 students and early career scientists from across Europe for a weeklong workshop at the University of Rome, focusing on Juno’s advanced data on Jupiter and its moons. “The contributions of European scientific and engineering communities have been instrumental for our mission’s success,” noted Bolton. “It’s our small way of giving back to the community that means so much to us.”

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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