Juno Captures Images of Erupting Volcanic Plumes on Io


NASA’s Juno mission recently captured an impressive image of volcanic activity on Jupiter’s moon, Io, during its second flyby on February 3rd. The image displays two visible plumes, which scientists speculate could be emitted from one large volcano or two smaller ones on Io’s landscape. Captured by JunoCam, the spacecraft’s visible-light camera, the image was taken from approximately 2,400 miles above Io’s surface.

The recent flyby allowed Juno to approach as close as 930 miles to Io’s surface. This marks the spacecraft’s second visit to Io, the first being on December 30th of the previous year. Scientists strategically planned these two trips with the aim of collecting data on Io’s volcanic surface, and to investigate whether the moon houses an ocean of magma beneath its rocky exterior. The data gathered from both flybys will aid researchers in understanding the origin of the plumes.

Known as the most volcanically active celestial body in the solar system, Io’s surface is dotted with hundreds of volcanoes. These volcanoes erupt plumes of lava high above the surface, a phenomenon first observed in March 1979 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. The gravitational pull from Jupiter, along with intermittent gravitational tugs from two nearby moons, Europa and Ganymede, generates a tidal bulge in Io’s solid crust. This constant flexing generates immense heat, which powers Io’s characteristic plumes and lava fountains.

The high level of volcanic activity on Io makes it a dynamic environment. The moon’s surface is frequently coated with new deposits of lava, which accumulate at a faster rate than incoming asteroids or comets can create impact craters. This makes it challenging to determine the age of specific regions on Io. While the moon does not contain water, it features lakes of silicate lava. Despite its inhospitable environment, scientists are interested in studying Io, as it could reveal valuable insights about volcanic activity across the solar system.



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