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NASA’s Juno Mission Provides Close-Up View of Lava Lakes on Jupiter’s Moon Io.


On February 3, NASA’s Juno spacecraft, equipped with the JunoCam instrument, captured a striking image of two volcanic plumes ascending above the horizon of Jupiter’s moon Io. Taken from a distance of approximately 2,400 miles (3,800 kilometers), this snapshot offers a close-up view of the active geological processes shaping Io’s rugged surface.

Infrared imagery from NASA’s Juno probe is shedding new light on Io, Jupiter’s most volcanic moon. Recent discoveries reveal the extensive distribution of lava lakes across Io’s surface, offering unprecedented insights into its volcanic activity. Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), provided by the Italian Space Agency, played a crucial role in capturing these findings by detecting infrared signatures. Published in Nature Communications Earth and Environment on June 20, the research marks a significant step forward in understanding the geological processes at work on Io.

Io has fascinated astronomers since its discovery in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, revealing a moon slightly larger than Earth’s Moon. Nearly 369 years later, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft captured the first volcanic eruption on Io. Subsequent missions to Jupiter, featuring multiple Io flybys, unveiled additional volcanic plumes and vast lava lakes. Scientists now regard Io, influenced by gravitational tugs from nearby moons and Jupiter, as the most volcanically active body in our solar system. Despite numerous theories on Io’s volcanic eruptions, there remains a scarcity of supporting data.

During flybys in May and October 2023, NASA’s Juno spacecraft approached Io at distances of approximately 21,700 miles (35,000 kilometers) and 8,100 miles (13,000 kilometers), respectively. Juno’s instruments, including the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), provided detailed observations of Io’s complex terrain and volcanic activity, enriching our understanding of this enigmatic moon.

Infrared data collected on October 15, 2023, by NASA’s Juno Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument reveals Chors Patera, a prominent lava lake on Jupiter’s moon Io. Analysis by the mission team suggests that the lake is predominantly covered by a thick, molten crust, with a distinct hot ring encircling its edges where molten lava from Io’s interior is directly exposed to space.

JIRAM, designed to capture infrared light invisible to the human eye emanating from deep within Jupiter, delves into the gas giant’s atmosphere down to 30 to 45 miles beneath its cloud tops. During Juno’s extended mission, the instrument has expanded its scope to include Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Particularly striking are JIRAM’s images of Io, revealing bright rings encircling hot spot floors.Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, highlighted the instrument’s high spatial resolution, coupled with Juno’s advantageous flyby positions, uncovering Io’s entire surface adorned with lava lakes nestled in caldera-like formations. Mura estimates that approximately 3% of Io’s surface features these molten lava reservoirs, formed within depressions created by volcanic eruptions and collapses known as calderas.

In the realm of Io’s volcanic activity, JIRAM’s recent flyby has unveiled intriguing insights into the moon’s fiery landscapes. The data not only underscores Io’s vast reservoirs of lava but also offers a peek into its subsurface dynamics. Infrared imagery of multiple lava lakes on Io reveals a distinctive pattern: a narrow band of molten lava encircling the lake’s perimeter, separating the central crust from the lake’s enclosing walls. 

This phenomenon suggests a continuous recycling process where molten material erupts into the lava lakes and is subsequently reintegrated into Io’s subsurface, without significant outward lava flows beyond the lake rims. This delicate balance hints at a complex system of magma circulation beneath Io’s turbulent surface, perpetuating its reputation as a “fire-breathing” moon of the Solar System.

“We now understand that the predominant volcanic activity on Io involves vast lava lakes where magma cycles up and down,” explained Mura. These lava lakes exhibit a distinct lava ring around their perimeters, akin to those observed in Hawaiian lava lakes, formed as the molten crust collides with the lake walls. These walls likely tower hundreds of meters high, preventing magma from spilling out of the bowl-shaped paterae and spreading across Io’s surface. JIRAM data indicates that these hot spots are mostly covered by a rocky crust that moves cyclically due to magma upwelling at the center. This crust interacts with the lake walls, causing deformation and occasional breaks that expose the molten lava below.

An alternative hypothesis proposes that magma wells up at the lake’s center, spreading outward and forming a sinking crust along the rim, thereby exposing lava. Scott Bolton, principal investigator for Juno at the Southwest Research Institute, emphasized the significance of recent JIRAM observations from close Io flybys in late 2023 and early 2024. These findings are shedding new light on Io’s volcanic processes, complementing Juno’s ongoing efforts to map the volcanoes at Io’s poles. With Juno’s 62nd flyby of Jupiter, which included an Io pass at 18,175 miles (29,250 kilometers) altitude on June 13, and the upcoming 63rd flyby scheduled for July 16, JIRAM continues to prove invaluable in unraveling the mysteries of this geologically dynamic moon.

Surendra Uikey

My name is Surendra Uikey, I am a science blogger, I have been blogging for the past three years, because I love to write, especially on astronomy, and I believe, if you want to learn something, then start learning others, By this it will be, that you learn things in a better way. In 2019, I started, the aim of making was to connect astronomy in simple words to common people.

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