The Juno spacecraft captured images of the volcanic eruption on the surface of the Jovian moon Io. This happened for more than an hour during the winter solstice.
Io, Jupiter's moon, is considered to be the most volcanically active body in our solar system. While gathering information about Io is not a part of Juno's primary mission, it is certainly a bonus.
Juno spacecraft has reached halfway in its decadelong mission. It was first launched on Aug. 5, 2011, and arrived at Jupiter in July 2016, almost five years later. The mission is stipulated to close in July 2021 after it has gathered important information as it orbits the planet after every 53 days.
Juno's Newfound Abilities
"We knew we were breaking new ground with a multi-spectral campaign to view Io's polar region, but no one expected we would get so lucky as to see an active volcanic plume shooting material off the moon's surface," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of the Juno mission and an associate vice president of Southwest Research Institute's Space Science and Engineering Division.
For Bolton, Juno's ability to visibly see the volcanic plumes is a New Year gift.
Latest Images Uncover New Insights
The images captured by Juno's four cameras can provide insightful details about Jupiter's interactions with its five moons. It can not only shed light on Io's volcanic behavior but also explain the freezing of its atmosphere at the time of eclipse, added Bolton.
NASA's Voyager Spacecraft was the first one to discover Io's volcanoes in 1979. It is the gravitational contact of Io with Jupiter that stimulates the volcanoes, emitting umbrella-shaped plumes of SO2 gas that produce large basaltic lava fields.
Alberto Adriani, a researcher at Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics, told the Southwest Research Institute, that JIRAM actively senses infrared wavelengths that allow them to study Io's volcanoes.
Adriani calls this one of the best images of Io collected by JIRAM so far.