Juno's joyride around Jupiter snaps stellar shots of Io

'Magnificent' image shows violent volcanic surface

New images of Jupiter's moon, Io, were this week released by NASA following the flyby of the Juno spacecraft on December 30.

The images were snapped by the JunoCam imager and have since been subject to processing by the JunoCam community to enhance details and mitigate wear and tear of the instrument operating in the harsh environment around Jupiter.

Six images were released, although the community has quickly enhanced them to pick out details such as volcanoes on the moon's surface.

The images are undeniably impressive and show a pockmarked orange sphere. Scientists have used words such as "magnificent" to describe them.

Juno has accomplished its primary science goals so planners are seeking to maximize the return from the probe by tweaking its orbit to get up close and personal with Jupiter's moons. A second flyby of Io is planned for February 3, 2024.

The flyby is an example of repurposing instruments since Juno was part of a broader mission to study Jupiter. However, the device has proven adept at gathering detailed images of Jupiter's moons and, while it was included in the mission for public engagement purposes, has demonstrated itself to be a useful scientific instrument.

It was also only supposed to last for the first eight orbits around the gas giant but has endured far longer despite some noticeable camera degradation. The sensor itself is a KODAK KAI-2020: a 1600 x 1200 pixel array. The same sensor can be found on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity.

More flybys are planned after February 3, but the spacecraft will get progressively more distant. The last is anticipated to be approximately 71,450 miles (115,000 kilometres) from the moon. December 30's encounter was planned to be 930 miles (1,500 kilometres) from the surface of Io.

How much longer Juno can keep going is open to question. As well as the degradation shown in raw images from JunoCam, the solar-powered spacecraft is subject to the effects of radiation on its arrays. Unlike its predecessors, such as Galileo, Juno is not nuclear-powered. At present, the plan is to keep going through September 2025, "or until the spacecraft's end of life." ®

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