NASA’s Juno spacecraft has finally returned a new image after a two-week delay caused by a radiation spike—and it’s of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io.
As the solar-powered spacecraft completed its 47th close pass (perijove) of Jupiter on Dec. 14 it attempted to return its science data to NASA, but the downlink was disrupted.
The most likely cause was that Juno flew through a radiation-intensive portion of Jupiter’s magnetosphere, according to NASA. Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory rebooted its onboard computer and put the spacecraft into safe mode.
However, NASA has been downlinking its data since Dec. 22, though the only image returned so far and publicly released is this image (above) of Io, one of Jupiter’s four giant Galilean moons.
The image was captured while Juno was 40,000 miles away. It includes an obvious black area called Loki Patera, Io’s largest volcanic depression, which contains a lake of lava.
Io is the most volcanic place in the solar system. It’s thought to be home to an underground ocean of magma.
Io is in a constant gravitational tug-of-war with Jupiter and the other big moons, so much so that it changes shape during its 42-hour orbit.
It’s thought that the constant stretching and squashing causes frictional “tidal heating” so great that an ocean of magma is created under the surface.
The Dec. 14 perijove is just the first of nine flybys of Io by Juno in the next few years, two of which will be from just 930 miles/1,500 kilometers away.
The spacecraft is in a highly elliptical orbit that sees it get close to the polar regions of Jupiter only once every five or six weeks, which is when it switches on its two-megapixel camera.
Juno’s next flyby of Jupiter will be on Jan. 22, 2023.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
Leave a Reply