Monday, March 4, 2024

Approaching Io: Space probe «Yunona» sets new record of observations from minimum distance

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Processed image, obtained by JunoCam camera on February 3, 2024 during the second close approach of the probe to the satellite of Jupiter Io. Source: NASA / SwRI / MSSS

Space apparatus Juno continues to reveal interesting facts about Jupiter and the system of its satellites since its launch on July 4, 2016. Currently «Junona» is the first robotic mission to explore nearby Jupiter, after the spacecraft «Galileo», which conducted studies of the gas giant and its satellites between 1995 and 2003. «Juno» also became the first space apparatus to penetrate beneath Jupiter’s dense clouds to study the magnetic field, composition and structure of the planet. The data obtained help scientists answer questions about the origin of Jupiter and the evolution of the Solar System.

Since 2021 «Junona» is on the extended phase of the mission, within the framework of which it studies several of the largest satellites of Jupiter, including Ganymede, Europa and Io. While flying past these satellites, «Junona» made some exciting photographs with the help of its main instrument — JunoCam.


On February 3, 2024 «Junona» conducted another close flyby of Io and obtained even more exciting photos of the volcanic satellite and its surface. This is the second part of a double survey, aimed at obtaining new data about the volcanic activity of Io and its structure.

The previous launch took place on 30 December 2023 and, like the last one, passed at a distance of 1500 kilometers from the surface of Io. These two launches became the closest to Io, renewing the record, set by «Juno» in October 2023, when the probe came to a minimum distance of 12000 kilometers from the satellite. No other mission has come this close to Io since Galileo studied this volcanic crater more than twenty years ago.

Photos, taken during the flights, are now available on the mission website (SwRI). One of the processed images, obtained by civilian scientist Emma Valimaki, shows that the dark side of Io was illuminated by sunlight reflected from Jupiter — a phenomenon known as the «Jupiterian glow». Other images, provided by «Yunnoy», include several infrared images, which show active volcanoes and even ejections on the dark side of the satellite.

These images are part of a study being conducted to determine whether it has active volcanoes, feeding magma, located beneath its surface. Based on existing models, scientists believe that this phenomenon is related to tidal phenomena inside Io, caused by its interaction with Jupiter’s strong gravitational field. This is similar to what scientists believe happens on Europa and other icy satellites, where streams generate hydrothermal activity at the boundary of the mantle and core, supporting the presence of wet oceans of water inside them.

At the moment the mission «Junony» lasts already twelve years and five months. According to the extended mission plan, the probe will continue to orbit Jupiter from pole to pole until September 2025, although this period may be extended. Thanks to solar panels — the largest on a space probe ever launched — which provide electrical energy, the mission will continue to explore the system and help scientists resolve fundamental questions about the origin of Jupiter and its satellites.

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