An infrared image of the southern hemisphere of Jupiter’s moon Io taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Labelled is the ‘hot spot’ that may turn out to be a previously undiscovered volcano. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM
NASA’s Juno mission may have discovered a previously unknown volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io, after a heat source close to the moon’s south pole was detected.
The potential discovery was made using data collected by Juno’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument on 16 December 2017, when the spacecraft was about 470,000km away from the moon.
“The new Io hotspot JIRAM picked up is about 300 kilometres from the nearest previously mapped hotspot,” says Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome.
“We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hot spot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature.”
The first discovery of a volcano on Io was made by NASA planetary scientist Linda Morabito in 1979, as she was analysing images of Jupiter and its moons captured during the Voyager mission.
So far, NASA missions to the Jupiter system (Voyager, Galileo, Cassini and New Horizons) have led to the discovery of 150 active volcanoes on Io.
It is estimated that another 250 could be waiting to be discovered.