Frontier Adventure

Juno Completes its Closest Flyby of Io Yet

Jupiter’s ocean moons capture most of our attention because of their potential habitability. But Io, Jupiter’s bad-boy volcanic moon, is in a class of its own. There’s nothing else like it in the Solar System, and NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured new images of the volcanic satellite during its closest approach yet.

Io is Jupiter’s third-largest moon and the Solar System’s fourth largest moon. It’s also larger than our Moon. It has the highest density and the strongest gravity of any moon. Io also has the least amount of water of any astronomical object in the Solar System.

Io is the fourth largest moon in the Solar System, but its volcanic activity is what sets it apart. Image Credit: Wikipedia
Io is the fourth largest moon in the Solar System, but its volcanic activity is what sets it apart. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Those characteristics alone make it interesting. But what really garners Io so much attention, and led Juno to study it more closely, is its volcanic activity. It’s the most geologically active body in the Solar System and boasts over 400 volcanoes, along with widespread lava flows.

Juno’s JunoCam instrument captured new images of Io from its closest approach yet on October 15th, from less than 12,000 km away. Now, citizen scientists have processed these images and shared them with the rest of us. The result is the best images of Io we’ve seen since the Galileo mission ended 20 years ago.

This image comes to us from Kevin Gill, a well-known processor of JunoCam images and other space images. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

We have NASA’s foresight to thank for these images. When they were planning the Juno mission, they found room for JunoCam. JunoCam is primarily a public engagement instrument, though it does help provide context for the spacecraft’s more rigorous science instruments. The camera was intended to capture images for citizen scientists and other skilled—or amateur—image processors to have fun with.

It’s working as intended.

Navaneeth Krishnan created this IO false-color image from the raw image captured by JunoCam on October 15, 2023. Image Credit: NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Navaneeth Krishnan S © CC BY

Io’s widespread volcanic activity have shaped and reshaped its surface. The surface is restless, inhospitable, even tortured. The lava flows and volcanoes make it appear like a throwback to the Solar System’s early days, when Earth and possibly the Moon and other bodies were magma oceans. And with it’s sulfur-covered plains, comparisons with Hell are unavoidable.
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