NASA’s Juno spacecraft has helped scientists to detect a volcano close to the south pole of Jupiter’s moon Io.
When the Juno spacecraft made a flyby of Io in December of last year, it picked up a previously unknown source of intense heat near the Jovian moon’s South Pole using its Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument. The data was collected when the space probe was about 290,000 miles away from Io.
According to Alessandro Mura, who is a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, the new Io hotspot that JIRAM picked up is about 300 kilometers away from the nearest previously known hotspot.
“We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hot spot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature,” Mura added.
NASA officials said that the Juno team is currently evaluating JIRAM data collected during the December flyby. The team is expecting to get more clues on the hidden volcano after Juno’s next flyby to Io that is currently scheduled on July 16.
Scientists believe that the heat source may be another volcano, adding to the hundreds of volcanoes on Io. NASA has already described the Jupiter moon as “the most volcanically active world in the solar system.”
NASA’s previous exploratory missions that made their way to Jupiter including Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini and New Horizons along with ground-based observations, have discovered more than 150 active volcanoes on Io so far. Scientists are estimating that Io could be hiding almost twice as many more.
Launched in 2011, the Juno spacecraft has so far logged 146 million miles of travel since entering Jupiter’s orbit. Now that NASA has extended the Juno mission until July 2021, many more flybys are expected to take place.