NASA’s Juno spacecraft just had an extremely close encounter with the most volcanic world in the solar system—but its stunning first image could be among its last after 56 orbits of Jupiter.
On December 30, the bus-sized spacecraft – which has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016 – came very close to Io, Jupiter’s giant moon. It came within just 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) of the moon’s surface. However, the spacecraft’s camera has been damaged by radiation and may not last much longer.
The first image back from it, the closest pass since NASA’s Galileo probe imaged the volcanic moon in October 2001, was posted on social media by NASA on Dec. 31. “The JunoCam instrument on our Juno mission acquired six images of Jupiter’s moon Io during its close encounter today,” the tweet read. “This black and white view was taken at an altitude of approximately 1,500 miles (2,500 km).”
If you look closely, the dark side of Io is also visible. It is illuminated by “Jupitershine” – sunlight reflected from Jupiter on Io.
More images Incoming
He promised that more images of Io – and of Jupiter itself – will be available soon from mission image website. The space agency typically uploads a burst of data from Juno via its Deep Space Network shortly after each close pass it makes at Jupiter.
This black-and-white view, taken through JunoCam’s red filter, shows Io’s high northern latitudes. The images are four times more detailed than those taken by Juno in October, which were the best in 22 years.
The moon’s tumultuous 42-day orbit around Jupiter generates enormous heat, which scientists believe creates a magma ocean beneath its rocky surface. Io is the most volcanic world in the solar system, with eruptions orders of magnitude greater than anything similar on Earth.
Since 2016, Juno has been exploring Jupiter and its four largest moons. It has flown very close to three of these moons—Europa, Ganymede, and Io. The fourth moon, Callisto, will be visited by another spacecraft called JUICE several times between July 2031 and December 2034. JUICE will also visit Europa and Ganymede and remain in orbit around Ganymede.
Another spacecraft called Europa Clipper will focus on exploring Europa and tour Jupiter’s moons starting in 2030. However, there are no plans to visit Io—so what Juno sends us later this week will it is critical.
Juno will make another close pass of Io in February, so expect some incredible images from NASA in the coming months. At least, that’s the plan.
This impressive image comes with a strong hint from NASA that JunoCam may be nearing the end of its life. Originally designed to last only a few orbits, it has recently been suffering from overheating.
“After Juno’s last close pass of Jupiter in November, JunoCam’s performance was severely degraded by radiation damage.” NASA wrote on Facebook. “Using its built-in heater, the camera was heated to a temperature of about 65 degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit) over several weeks in December, a process called ‘annealing,’ and this treatment has restored the camera’s functionality, at least for this pass. “
I wish you clear skies and open eyes.