NASA’s Juno spacecraft will spend the next year and a half studying the most volcanic world in our Solar System after uncovering a trove of data on Jupiter and its frozen moons (Europa and Ganymede).
Juno’s newest priority is on the Jovian moon Io and is performing the first high-resolution monitoring of the surface. Scientists will observe Io’s volcanoes and how these eruptions interact with Jupiter’s magnetosphere and aurora.
“Juno sensors are designed to study Jupiter, but we’ve been thrilled at how well they can perform double duty by observing Jupiter’s moons,” said Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton in a statement.
The volcanoes on Io do not erupt through plate tectonics like on Earth. Instead, the violent eruptions of the world are caused by a phenomenon called tidal heating.
Io is constantly being pulled by the gravity of Jupiter, Europa and Ganymede. Its orbit is also between Jupiter and these large moons. The pull from the gravity of the planet and moons heats Io’s interior. The rocky interior melts to form magma, which gushes from beneath the surface from crack’s in Io’s surface.
The spacecraft began studying Io on Dec. 15, 2022, after completing its first of nine planned flybys. Two future flybys will be just 1,500 kilometres away from Io’s magma-encrusted surface.
Juno reached Jupiter in 2016. For five years, the spacecraft collected three terabits of data studying Jupiter’s atmosphere and interior. Towards the end of the prime mission, Juno’s aim evolved to include more flybys of Jupiter and its moons Europa, Ganymede, and Io.
There are also future flybys planned of Jupiter to study the planet’s rings, magnetic field and magnetosphere, atmosphere and interior. Juno is now in its second year of its extended mission, which is expected to end in 2025.
“The team is really excited to have Juno’s extended mission include the study of Jupiter’s moons. With each close flyby, we have been able to obtain a wealth of new information,” said Bolton, who is also with the Southwest Research Institute.