NASA's Juno probe to capture Jupiter's volcanic moon Io

NASA's Juno spacecraft ventures closer than ever to Jupiter's volcanic moon, Io.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Jupiter's Io.jpg
Jupiter's Io.


NASA's Juno spacecraft is about to get up close and personal with one of Jupiter's most captivating moons—Io. This Sunday, July 30, the solar-powered probe will make history as it comes within a mere 13,700 miles of Io's fiery surface. For context, that's about the same distance as a round trip from Antarctica to Russia.

Io, slightly larger than Earth's moon, proudly boasts the title of the fourth largest moon in our entire solar system. But don't let its size fool you; this celestial body packs a volcanic punch like no other. Hundreds of eruptions will be in full swing across the moon's 2,260-mile surface as Juno collects invaluable data during its flyby. Among Juno's trusty instruments, the star of the show will undoubtedly be the Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM).

JIRAM was initially designed to catch glimpses of Jupiter's polar auroras. But as fate would have it, this nifty gadget has become an essential volcano-spotting tool for Io. Juno Principal Investigator, Scott Bolton, couldn't hide his excitement, stating, "While JIRAM was designed to look at Jupiter’s polar aurora, its capability to identify heat sources is proving indispensable in our hunt for active volcanos on Io."

You might wonder how Io got its reputation as the most volcanic body in our solar system neighborhood. Io's fiery personality arises from its complex gravitational dance with Jupiter—the solar system's behemoth. As Jupiter's gravitational force pulls on Io, it's also caught in the gravitational embrace of fellow Jovian moons Europa and Ganymede. The result? A cosmic tug of war that stretches, squeezes, and undulates Io's surface.

This geological tug-of-war leads to jaw-dropping tidal forces, creating uneven ground that can rise and fall by up to 330 feet! Consequently, this planetary stress unleashes extreme volcanism on Io, with lava shooting dozens of miles into space.

JIRAM and Juno's other instruments have been no strangers to Io's fiery temper. During its previous flyby, JIRAM spotted hot spots across the moon's surface. Another instrument, JunoCam, captured a tantalizing image of a smudge near the equator called Volund.

More discoveries in the exploration

But the excitement doesn't stop there! On this current pass, JIRAM snapped an image of a 125-mile-wide volcanic depression known as Loki Patera. And it appears to be an active volcano. Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, shared their enthusiasm, "The data show the lava could be bubbling to the surface in the northwest portion and creating a lava lake to the south and east. Any volcanologist will tell you it is important to determine whether a lava lake has a stable source of material from an underground chamber."

Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator, explained why Io's volcanic exploration is heating up, "Io is the most volcanic celestial body that we know of in our solar system. By observing it over time on multiple passes, we can watch how the volcanoes vary."

So, on July 30, Juno's daring encounter with Io will uncover more about the moon's volcanic activities and more discoveries on the horizon.

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