NASA's Juno probe captures amazing views of Jupiter's volcanic moon Io (video)

The four biggest moons of Jupiter aren't just blurry smudges in Galileo's telescope anymore.

The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered Ganymede, Callisto, Europa and Io back in 1610, which explains why they're called the Galilean moons. We've learned a lot about these exotic bodies in the past 400 years thanks to ever-improving telescope views and close-up imagery snapped by voyaging spacecraft like NASA's Juno Jupiter orbiter.

Indeed, Juno recently conducted two close flybys of Io, the most volcanically active body in the solar system, and data from the encounters is wowing scientists. 

Related: NASA's Juno probe sees active volcanic eruptions on Jupiter's volcanic moon Io (images)

The JunoCam instrument on NASA’s Juno captured this view of Jupiter’s moon Io — with the first-ever image of its south polar region — during the spacecraft’s 60th flyby of Jupiter on April 9.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Gerald Eichstädt/Thomas Thomopoulos (CC BY))

"Io is simply littered with volcanoes, and we caught a few of them in action," Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator, said in a NASA statement on Thursday (April 18).

"We also got some great close-ups and other data on a 200-kilometer-long (127-mile-long) lava lake called Loki Patera," Bolton added. "There is amazing detail showing these crazy islands embedded in the middle of a potentially magma lake rimmed with hot lava. The specular reflection our instruments recorded of the lake suggests parts of Io's surface are as smooth as glass, reminiscent of volcanically created obsidian glass on Earth."

Juno came within about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) of Io's roiling surface during the two flybys, which occurred in December 2023 and February 2024. Mission team members processed the encounter data into a flyover animation, which provides a dazzling view of the moon.

Maps created with Juno data recently also have shown that Io's surface is smoother than those of the other Galilean moons, and that Io's poles are colder than its mid-latitude regions, mission team members said.

Jupiter, too

Juno has also collected intriguing information about the poles of Jupiter recently using its Microwave Radiometer (MWR) instrument, including differences among the gas giant's intriguing north polar cyclones.

"Perhaps [the] most striking example of this disparity can be found with the central cyclone at Jupiter's north pole," Steve Levin, Juno's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in the same statement. 

"It is clearly visible in both infrared and visible light images, but its microwave signature is nowhere near as strong as other nearby storms," Levin added. "This tells us that its subsurface structure must be very different from these other cyclones."

The Juno team is also learning more about Jupiter's water abundance. The scientists aren't looking for flowing lakes and rivers — Jupiter has no discernible surface, after all — but rather for oxygen and hydrogen molecules in its thick atmosphere. Such work follows on from that done by NASA's Galileo Jupiter orbiter, which ended its mission with an intentional death dive into Jupiter's atmosphere in 1995.

Galileo "did amazing science, but its data was so far afield from our models of Jupiter's water abundance that we considered whether the location it sampled could be an outlier. But before Juno, we couldn't confirm," Bolton said. "Now, with recent results made with MWR data, we have nailed down that the water abundance near Jupiter's equator is roughly three to four times the solar abundance when compared to hydrogen. This definitively demonstrates that the Galileo probe's entry site was an anomalously dry, desert-like region."

While there are still many questions surrounding how Jupiter formed, scientists continue to rely on data coming in from Juno's extended mission. The probe's next close flyby of Jupiter — its 61st overall — will be on May 12.

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Meredith Garofalo
Contributing Writer

Meredith is a regional Murrow award-winning Certified Broadcast Meteorologist and science/space correspondent. She most recently was a Freelance Meteorologist for NY 1 in New York City & the 19 First Alert Weather Team in Cleveland. A self-described "Rocket Girl," Meredith's personal and professional work has drawn recognition over the last decade, including the inaugural Valparaiso University Alumni Association First Decade Achievement Award, two special reports in News 12's Climate Special "Saving Our Shores" that won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, multiple Fair Media Council Folio & Press Club of Long Island awards for meteorology & reporting, and a Long Island Business News & NYC TV Week "40 Under 40" Award.

  • Cosmoquark
    Admin said:
    NASA's Juno probe continues to give us more insight into Jupiter and the giant planet's moons, including Io, the most volcanically active object in the solar system.

    NASA's Juno probe captures amazing views of Jupiter's volcanic moon Io (video) : Read more
    The penultimate paragraph does not seem to make much sense in its current form. Why would Juno’s principal investigator Bolton compare “the water abundance near Jupiter's equator” with its abundance on the Sun, where, as I recall, water does not exist at all? Without taking the time to confirm my understanding by undertaking factual research, I would rather take the lazy shortcut of speculating that perhaps the word “solar” might be a typo, as the comparison would make more sense if the word were instead “polar,” unless I do not understand the comparison of something – water? – to hydrogen – in what unspecified location(s)?

    Is my speculation mistaken? If so, perhaps the author or editors would be so kind as to clarify what Bolton – as quoted – was trying to communicate, or what he actually stated.
  • billslugg
    Water on the Sun is a new on me. This article explains that they got water vapor spectra out of sunspots back in 1997. It seems it is important in mediating energy transport through its absorption of infra red.

    A sunspot can be as cool as 3000°C. At that temperature, "more than half*" of water molecules are disassociated into their elements. This means that water vapor is going to be present if there is much oxygen around. Sun is about 1% oxygen.

    *Wiki, no source given.
  • nogyndryl
    Any idea as to when we are going to be able to see these amazing views?