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Juno spacecraft captures stunning close-up images of Jupiter's moon Io

Artist rendering of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is seen in an undated handout image

Jupiter's moon Io has always fascinated scientists and space enthusiasts alike with its fiery and chaotic nature. Recently, NASA's Juno spacecraft captured detailed images of Io during a super-close flyby on February 3, 2024. This exciting event comes after a similarly close flyby on December 30, 2023, where Juno sent back spectacular close-up images. These two flybys mark the closest any spacecraft has come to Io in over 20 years, according to NASA.

Io, slightly larger than Earth's moon, boasts a rocky surface and a tenuous sulfur dioxide atmosphere. It is known for prominent features such as the Pele volcano and Loki Patera, a massive volcanic depression that houses an ocean of magma. In fact, Io is the most volcanic world in our solar system, showcasing eruptions significantly larger than those on Earth. The reason behind this intense volcanic activity is attributed to Io's orbit of Jupiter.

Being the innermost of Jupiter's four Galilean moons, Io completes an orbit in just 42 days. The gravitational pull exerted by the gas giant planet and its other large moons generates immense heat and frictional tidal heating on Io. Consequently, this heat leads to the high volcanic activity and the existence of a magma ocean beneath its rocky surface.

The recent images captured by Juno showcase the intriguing features of Io, including potential plumes. These plumes, likely comprised of sulfur and sulfur dioxide, are being ejected from one or two of Io's numerous volcanoes. Citizen scientist Andrea Luck skillfully processed these images, providing stunning visual insights into Jupiter's fiery moon.

Juno, with its next perijove (close pass of Jupiter) scheduled for March 7, continues its exploration of the massive planet. During each perijove, Juno's elliptical orbit takes it far from Jupiter before swinging it just a few thousand miles from the planet's poles. This proximity allows Juno to study the cloud tops closely, providing valuable data to scientists.

Equipped with a titanium radiation vault, Juno is well-prepared to withstand Jupiter's intense radiation belts. Inside this protective vault, Juno carries sensitive scientific instruments, including a magnetometer, a gravity science system, and a microwave radiometer. These instruments help scientists measure Jupiter's magnetic and gravitational fields, as well as its atmospheric temperature, pressure, and composition.

Juno's mission, which began in 2016, has already yielded notable scientific findings. Its exploration of Jupiter's poles, from pole to pole, marks a significant milestone as the first mission to orbit an outer planet in this manner.

As Juno continues its journey through the Jovian system, we eagerly await further discoveries and breathtaking images. The exploration of Jupiter's moons, particularly Io, remains a captivating endeavor that expands our understanding of the diverse worlds within our solar system.

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