Juno is preparing for a record approach with Io

On July 30, the Juno probe will make the closest visit to Io during its entire mission. The Earth messenger will fly at a distance of 22 thousand km from its volcanic surface.

“Happy” failure

Juno was launched in 2011 with the aim of exploring Jupiter. Curiously, the study of the gas giant’s moons was not included in the original scientific program of the mission at all. However, during the maneuver of the spacecraft entering orbit around the planet, there was a malfunction in the operation of its main engine, which, as it now became clear, turned out to be “happy”. Because of it, Juno had to stay in a more elongated intermediate orbit.

After NASA extended the life of Juno several times, it turned out that its current orbit allowed it to make a number of close flights of several large moons of Jupiter. In 2021, the spacecraft made a visit to Ganymede. It was followed by a close flyby of Europa last year. Now it’s Io’s turn.

Amazing Io

Io is the most volcanically active world in the Solar System. There are hundreds of active volcanoes on the surface of this moon, which continuously erupt, changing its landscape. The length of their lava flows can reach hundreds of kilometers. The length of their lava flows can reach hundreds of kilometers. On Io, there are also whole lakes filled with molten sulfur.

Juno on the background of Ganymede, Europa and Callisto (collage). Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Kevin M. Gill (CC BY); Thomas Thomopoulos (CC BY)

The reason for such activity is tidal interactions. Both the gravity of Jupiter and its moons — Europa and Ganymede — contribute. It literally stretches and compresses the moon, which is why its interior is in the state of a lava ocean.

Unsurprisingly, scientists use every opportunity to gather more information about Io. This year Juno has already made several rendezvous with the moon, but the visit scheduled for July 30 will be a record. The spacecraft will approach Io at a distance of 22 thousand km.

Images of Io taken by different spacecraft, showing changes on its surface. Source: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI. Juno: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Jason Perry (CC BY)

Scientists intend to take advantage of this and conduct a series of measurements of Io using the JIRAM tool. It was built to study the auroras of Jupiter — but it can also be used to observe the moon. It is expected to provide rich information about hundreds volcanoes on its surface.

During the upcoming flyby, Juno will also photograph Io. Then scientists will compare its images with older images to determine the changes that have occurred on its surface since previous observations.

Already in December of this year, Juno will get closer to Io again. This time, the spacecraft will fly at an altitude of only a few hundred kilometers from its surface, which will allow it to collect even more data about this unique world.

According to https://www.jpl.nasa.gov

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