NASA Spacecraft Spots Volcanic Eruption on Jupiter’s Moon Io in Stunning Images


NASA’s Juno mission continues to unravel the mysteries of the Jovian system in a new set of images beamed back to Earth.

The recent collection of photographs captured as Juno orbits the Gas Giant shows one of Jupiter’s moon shows a fascinating volcanic eruption from space.

On December 21, during the winter solstice, four of Juno’s cameras observed Io for more than an hour.

During this time, the spacecraft gathered scientific data and images which allowed us to take a peek at the polar regions of the moon and witness a volcanic eruption as seen from space.

“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,” explained Scott Bolton, principal investigator of the Juno mission and an associate vice president of Southwest Research Institute’s Space Science and Engineering Division.

Juno’s Radiation Monitoring Investigation collected this image of Jupiter’s moon Io with Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) star camera. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI.

“This is quite a New Year’s present showing us that Juno has the ability to clearly see plumes.”

The new batch of images captured by Juno shows the Jovian moon half-illuminated with a clearly visible bright spot just beyond the terminator, the day-night boundary.

“The ground is already in shadow, but the height of the plume allows it to reflect sunlight, much like the way mountaintops or clouds on the Earth continue to be lit after the sun has set,” said Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, the JunoCam lead scientists and member of the Planetary Science Institute.

As Io made its way into the darkness of a total eclipse, as it was moving just being Jupiter, sunlight reflecting off of another Jovian Moon Europa, helped illuminate Io and the volcanic eruption taking place.

The Stellar Reference Unit onboard Juno depict Io softly illuminated by moonlight from Europa.

“As a low-light camera designed to track the stars, the SRU can only observe Io under very dimly lit conditions. Dec. 21 gave us a unique opportunity to observe Io’s volcanic activity with the SRU using only Europa’s moonlight as our lightbulb,” explained another Juno mission member, Heidi Becker, a lead of Juno’s Radiation Monitoring Investigation.

Io happens to be the most volcanic body in our solar system.

Juno’s Radiation Monitoring Investigation collected this image of Jupiter’s moon Io with Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) star camera. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI.

The images of the volcanic eruption on Io come during the halfway point of Juno’s mission, which is scheduled to obtain a complete map of Jupiter by mid-2021.

Juno was launched back in 2011 and entered into orbit around Jupiter in 2016. 

The spacecraft orbits the gas giant every 53 days and collects a number of scientific data as it makes its way around the planet. 

Juno studies the Gas Giant’s auroras, atmosphere, and magnetosphere, but has also proven to be an excellent photographer, and the spacecraft has captured mind-bending images of the Jovian system.


Like it? Share with your friends!