A NASA spacecraft has come within 1,000 miles of Jupiter’s moon Io and sent back astonishing photos. Juno has been circling Jupiter since 2016 and gathering information to help scientists understand the enormous gaseous planet and its moons. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and has 95 known moons. Primarily composed of gas and liquid, Jupiter is around 1,321 times the size of planet Earth.
Io, one of the planet’s many moons, is described by NASA as a “turbulent world dotted with hundreds of volcanoes.” The exploration aims to learn more about those volcanoes, including how often they erupt, how hot they are, and what shape the lava makes as it flows.
Photos posted to NASA’s website were taken by three separate cameras on the roving spacecraft. These were a Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper, which takes infrared pictures, and a navigational star camera, which has higher resolution capacity than any camera ever launched into space. The third device is known as the JunoCam, which takes visible-light color images.
The investigation is part of NASA’s broader aim to better understand Jupiter and its origins. When Juno’s first reports returned to Earth in 2017, it contained some surprising revelations. The strength of the planet’s magnetic field was more significant than expected, and the weather at its poles was far more “chaotic.”
Thanks to Juno, scientists now know that Jupiter has the most intense magnetic field in the entire solar system and is twice as strong as predicted. The “chaos” at the poles was somewhat understood due to previous images showing white and dark circular entities gathered a short distance from each other. In 2017, however, NASA learned that these are entirely disorganized and very different from other planets. “Instead of one cyclone, we see multitudes, surrounded by a whole host of chaotic and turbulent features,” NASA stated.
Juno will continue its mission of discovery until 2025. The journey from Earth to Jupiter took just over five years.