The Juno spacecraft is preparing to take a closer look at Jupiter's tortured moon

NASA's Jupiter Curiosity Probe is becoming friendlier with the planet's most volatile moon, Io. The Juno spacecraft will make the closest encounter any mission has made with the volcanic moon in more than 20 years, collecting valuable clues about its mysterious activity.

Juno will fly by Io on Saturday, December 30, at a distance of 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) from the hellish surface of the Jovian moon, according to NASA. The spacecraft observed Io during previous flybys in May and July from distances ranging from 6,830 miles (11,000 kilometers) to more than 62,100 miles (100,000 kilometers). This upcoming flyby is a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with Io, the most volcanically active body in the solar system.

“By combining data from this flyby with our previous observations, the Juno science team is studying how Io's volcanoes differ,” Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator, said in a statement. “We're looking at how often they erupt, how bright and hot they are, how the shape of the lava flow changes, and how Io's activity relates to the flow of charged particles in Jupiter's magnetosphere.”

As the deepest of Jupiter's large moons, Io is sandwiched between Jupiter's enormous gravitational pull, as well as the gravitational pull of its sister moons Europa and Ganymede. As a result, the Moon is in a constant state of expansion and compression, which contributes to its volcanic activity. The Jovian moon has hundreds of volcanoes and lakes of molten silicate lava on its surface.

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NASA's Juno spacecraft has been studying the Jovian system since 2016, and has captured some remarkable images of Jupiter and its icy moons Ganymede and Europa. In October, Juno captured an ominous view of Io, revealing its charred surface in the sky Closest view of the moon This dimension. Juno too I took a cozy family photo of Jupiter and Io In September, the gas giant and its moon were revealed side by side.

During its next flyby of Io, the spacecraft will focus all three of its cameras on the young moon. The Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), which captures infrared images, will collect thermal signatures emanating from volcanoes on the Moon's surface, while the spacecraft's stellar reference module (a navigational stellar camera) will capture the highest-resolution image of Io's surface ever. taken. The JunoCam imager will take color images of the moon's visible light.

Juno is scheduled to make a second close flyby of Io on February 3, 2024, when the spacecraft will come within about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) of the moon's surface. During those upcoming flybys, scientists will have the opportunity to collect data provided by Juno combined Remote observations by the Hubble and Webb space telescopes.

“Through our flybys in December and February, Juno will investigate the source of Io's massive volcanic activity, whether there is a magma ocean beneath its crust, and the importance of tidal forces from Jupiter, which are relentlessly pressing on this tortured moon.” Bolton said.

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