NASA’s Juno is getting closer to Jupiter’s moon Io

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Kevin M. Gill (CC BY); Thomas Thomopoulos (CC BY)

A Big Trip Coming Up

Imagine you’re on a spaceship flying super close to a fiery moon! That’s what’s going to happen with NASA’s Juno mission on July 30.

The spaceship, Juno, will get closer than ever to Jupiter’s moon Io, just 13,700 miles (22,000 kilometers) away.

This moon is amazing – it’s covered in hundreds of volcanoes spitting out hot lava and gases. With its special tools, Juno will gather lots of new info about these volcanoes.

The main guy in charge of Juno, Scott Bolton, says that one tool, called JIRAM, has been really useful. It was first made to look at Jupiter’s light shows at the poles (auroras), but it’s also been great for spotting active volcanoes on Io.

Juno, which is powered by the Sun and spins around, has been watching Jupiter and its moons since 2016. It took off from Earth in 2011 and will start its third extra year of work on July 31.

About Io, the Volcanic Moon

Io is a bit bigger than our moon. It’s always being pulled and squished by Jupiter’s gravity and that of its moon siblings, Europa and Ganymede.

All this pulling and squishing heats up Io’s insides and makes the volcanoes erupt with lava.

During Juno’s last visit to Io on May 16, its camera took a picture from 22,100 miles (35,600 kilometers) away. It saw a smudge in a place called Volund on Io. Smudges like this are a big deal to space scientists.

Jason Perry, a scientist from the University of Arizona, was excited when he saw that things had changed at Volund since the last pictures were taken in 1999 and 2007.

The lava flow had spread and there was a new volcano with fresh lava around it.

During the same visit, JIRAM spotted something else interesting. It saw Loki Patera, the biggest volcano depression on Io. The pictures showed what might be an active volcano. The team hopes to see more on the next visit.

Alessandro Mura, a scientist from Rome, said the pictures show that lava might be rising to the surface and creating a lava lake.

He said it’s important to find out if the lava is coming from an underground chamber. The pictures from Juno will help them understand the volcanoes on Io better.

Students Learning About Jupiter

On July 17, Bolton and some other team members had a workshop with 49 students and new scientists from Europe at the University of Rome. They learned about Juno’s amazing discoveries about Jupiter and its moons.

Bolton said European scientists and engineers have done so much to help the mission. He was happy to give something back and help the students and new scientists develop interesting science projects based on Juno’s data.

He was impressed by their excitement and thought the future of space exploration in Europe looks bright.

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Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory