NASA’s Juno spacecraft is known for the beautiful images of Jupiter it regularly captures with its JunoCam instrument and for studying Jupiter’s strange atmosphere. But more recently, the spacecraft has also been exploring Jupiter’s moons, like icy Europa or our solar system’s largest moon, Ganymede.
Juno will now begin investigating the intriguing volcanic moon Io. The spacecraft is set to conduct a series of nine flybys of Io starting Dec. 15, coming within 930 miles of the moon’s surface.
This series of flybys is part of Juno’s extended mission to study Jupiter’s moons. “The team is really excited that Juno’s extended mission includes the study of Jupiter’s moons. With each close flyby, we’ve been able to gain a lot of new information,” said Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute. “The Juno sensors are designed to study Jupiter, but we’re excited to see how well they do double duty by observing Jupiter’s moons.”
Io is of particular interest because it is the most volcanic place in the solar system and also has the highest density and strongest surface gravity of any moon. Previous research has shown that it has more than 400 active volcanoes fed by the tidal forces of Jupiter and its other moons, which create friction that heats its interior. Previous Juno observations have captured an infrared image above that shows hot spots on the moon’s surface.
Juno will study how Io’s volcanic activity interacts with Jupiter’s magnetosphere, as the planet has a strong magnetic field surrounding it that interacts with its moons. Observations by Juno’s satellites also pave the way for future missions to study these objects in greater depth, such as the European Space Agency’s Jupiter ICy moon Explorer, or JUICE, and NASA’s Europa Clipper mission to Europa.