On March 1, the NASA “Juno” probe flew over Jupiter’s moon Io at an altitude of 50,000 km, giving us extraordinary images. Here are the differences noticed compared to the previous shots.

Credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill/Jason Perry/Twitter)

The probe of NASA “Juno” he snapped extraordinary images Of I, one of the four main moons of Jupiter. Together with Ganymede, Callisto and Europa it is part of the so-called medical satellites or galileans, so called because discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. The new photographs of the moon were taken on March 1, 2023when the probe made a flyby at just 51 thousand kilometers from the surface. These are the most detailed images of Io since it was flown by the spacecraft New Horizons in 2006, which at the time was headed for its real target: Pluto.

In the new shots of Juno you can admire the peculiar characteristics of Io, the lunar body with the major volcanic activity of the Solar system. Its surface is in fact carpeted by volcanoes, calderas and craters that spew rivers of lava and ashes for hundreds of kilometres. At least they count 300 active volcanoes simultaneously on the moon, whose sparkling geology is influenced by thegravitational attraction exerted by Jupiter – the largest planet in our star system – and by the other moons. The spectacular chromatic variations, which embrace shades of black, yellow, orange, brown and red, are precisely linked to chemical compounds released during constant volcanic activity. From the multicolored surface they also project extremely powerful plumes of sulfur and sulfur dioxide which reach even 500 kilometers of altitude. It is a real hellish world.

As explained on Twitter by Dr Jason Perry, a planetary imaging scientist who has taken part in several space missions, the new shots revealed a couple of interesting differences from those taken by New Horizons in 2006. “The surface changes are quite mild, but there are at least two. The first is a small stream from the eastern end of East Girru. This is a hotspot first seen by New Horizons in the midst of a mini explosion,” wrote Dr. Perry on Elon Musk’s social network. The second difference concerns a change in color of the Chors Patera volcanic crater, which is redder than in the past. “The reddish material on Io indicates the presence of S3-S4, short-chain sulfur that needs to be replenished regularly through active high-temperature volcanism,” he said.

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Images of Io were captured by the instrument Juno Cam (JCM), which consists of a camera and of a telescope. Curiously it is not part of the scientific load real; it was in fact inserted to capture spectacular images to share with the general public. In practice, its main task is to raise awareness of space science, even if it can capture interesting scientific details, such as the variations observed by Dr. Perry. After all, Juno’s goal is not to take photographs, but to study the magnetic field of Jupiter and other features of the gas giant, using a series of sophisticated instruments. Among them we mention the JIRAM, the JEDI, the MWR and the GSE.

Since it was launched on August 5, 2011, the Juno probe has made about fifty orbits around Jupiter – which it reached in 2016 – and is also profitably analyzing its moons. The fly-by of Io on March 1 was the third of nine fly-bys that will take place over the next few months. The most spectacular will occur the February 3, 2024when the probe will switch to just 1,500 kilometres from the surface of the moon. An overflight that will give us breathtaking and unprecedented shots of the chaotic volcanic world of Io. We recall that another 12 moons of Jupiter have recently been discovered, a number that has led it to become the planet in the Solar System with the most natural satellites ever (ninety two), against 83 of Saturn. Experts, however, expect to discover several more in the future.

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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