The latest image from NASA’s Juno mission reveals Jupiter’s moon Io in infrared, showing the volcanic hotspots that pepper its surface and fuel Jupiter’s auroras.
Io is the most volcanically active world in the solar system, with hundreds of volcanoes peppering the moon’s silicate crust, which is teeming with molten sulphur. Some of these volcanoes can eject lava tens of miles off the surface. In the new image, taken on July 5 but released yesterday, the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft caught Io in all of its burbling glory. In the image, high-temperature areas appear brighter.
These volcanic hotspots on Io are noteworthy because they are thought to contribute to the auroras on Jupiter’s poles, as discussed in research from the University of Leicester published earlier this year in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics. Jonathan Nichols and Stan Cowley were co-authors the paper, and after analyzing data from Juno, they argued that volcanic emissions from Io interact with and travel along Jupiter’s magnetic field to the planet’s poles, where they create auroras.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft launched in 2011 and took five years to reach Jupiter. The original mission saw Juno taking 35 orbits—each of which lasted approximately 53 days—around the planet, collecting 375 gigabytes of data on Jupiter’s atmosphere and interior along the way. NASA extended the mission in 2018 and again in 2021, with a new scheduled completion date of September 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 Scott Bolton in the NASA release. Bolton is the principal investigator for Juno at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “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.”