JWST, Hubble, Juno will team up to observe Jupiter's moon Io

The observations will provide the most holistic view of Io since the Galileo spacecraft and Hubble observed the volcanic moon in 1999.
Chris Young
Jupiter's moon Io captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.
Jupiter's moon Io captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

NASA / JPL / University of Arizona 

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Hubble Space Telescope will soon team up to observe the Jupiter moon Io.

The two telescopes will collect data on the distant moon, which will then be used by NASA's Juno probe, which is currently orbiting Jupiter. That data will help to guide the spacecraft during future flybys of Io.

Io, the solar system's most volcanic body

Io, roughly the size of Earth's moon, is the solar system's most volcanic body, and new observations could shed light on the environment surrounding Jupiter.

Astronomers wish to investigate the role Io's volcanic activity might play in contributing to plasma present around the gas giant.

NASA believes Io's surface features hundreds of active volcanoes that blast lava miles into Io's thin, waterless atmosphere. It is believed that the Jovian moon is so volcanically active because Jupiter's immense gravitational force squeezes the planet.

The extreme volcanism caused by this effect, in turn, affects the entire Jovian system. Escaping atmospheric gases from Io are ionized, creating a sea of charged particles in Jupiter's environment that may affect the planet's other moons.

In fact, Io's escaping atmosphere is the main source of material in the Jovian magnetosphere. A massive bubble of charged particles swirls around Jupiter, but the interactions between Jupiter and its many moons are hard to quantify and understand, meaning more observation time, with the best instruments available, is required.

James Webb, Hubble, and Juno to team up

In total, the team behind the new project, from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), will collect data over the course of 122 Earth orbits of Hubble, as well as five hours of JWST observing time.

In a press statement, Kurt Retherford, principal investigator on the project and SwRI researcher, explained that "the timing of this project is critical. Over the next year, Juno will buzz past Io several times, offering rare opportunities to combine in-situ and remote observations of this complex system." 

"We hope to gain new insights into Io's dramatic volcanism, plasma-moon interactions and the neutral gas and plasma populations that propagate through Jupiter's vast magnetosphere and trigger intense Jovian auroral emissions," Retherford continued.

JWST, Hubble, Juno will team up to observe Jupiter's moon Io
An artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter.

What's more, the team will use both Hubble and JWST to observe Io on September 20. At the same time, the Juno spacecraft will be performing a distant pass around the moon. This will allow them to obtain a holistic view of the Jovian moon that could shed new light on its interactions with its near neighbors.

"The chance for a holistic approach to Io investigations has not been available since a series of Galileo spacecraft flybys in 1999 to 2000 were supported by Hubble with a prolific 30-orbit campaign," Retherford explained. "The combination of Juno’s intensive in-situ measurements with our remote-sensing observations will undoubtedly advance our understanding of Io's role in driving coupled phenomena in the Jupiter system."

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