NASA’s Juno space probe, orbiting Jupiter since 2016, has just returned even more spectacular images from its JunoCam camera.
They include images not only of Jupiter’s cloud tops, but also of Io, one of its largest moons and the most volcanically active world in the solar system.
All of these photos were originally taken by the spinning spacecraft’s two-megapixel onboard camera for about three hours during its 41st perijove (close flyby) on Saturday, April 9, 2022, then sent back through millions of miles of space via NASA’s Deep Space Network.
The most interesting object in the JunoCam images was Jupiter’s third-largest moon, Io, which it approached within 106,000 kilometers.
Io hasn’t been photographed this closely since NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed a brief flyby in 2007 on its journey to Pluto. He captured a volcanic explosion.
Juno will again image Io from a distance during a flyby in December 2022, but is expected to come within 900 miles / 1,500 km of Io in December 2023 and February 2024.
Although they were teleported away over the weekend, it is only now that they see the light of day. This is because NASA does not use any of its own image processors, but simply uploads the raw images from Juno to NASA’s special mission website for citizen scientists around the world to process in the beautiful photos you see here.
In recent years, they have produced dozens of wondrous images of Jupiter.
Juno and Jupiter are currently 463 million miles/745 million kilometers away, or about five times the Earth-Sun distance. Despite this, Juno is powered by solar energy, the most distant solar-powered object in the universe.
However, there is another moon of Jupiter that Juno is approaching and that has planetary scientists just as excited.
Junos perijove in September, Juno will get a close-up of Europa, one of Jupiter’s most exciting Galilean moons that looks like a “veined eyeball.” Juno got a few distant shots from Europe during its last perijove. He also got a very distant view of Europa and Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io on the 39th perijove.
Europa is the fourth largest of Jupiter’s 79 moons and measures approximately 1,900 miles/3,100 kilometers in diameter. It is slightly smaller than our own Moon.
On September 29, 2022, it will reach just 221 miles (355 kilometers) above the surface of Europa. The photos will help inform two missions planned in Juno’s wake: NASA’s Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE).
Europa Clipper will launch in October 2024 and arrive in late 2027 to perform around 45 flybys, with each pass photographing the moon’s icy surface in high resolution.
JUICE will launch in May 2022, arrive in 2029, and take three and a half years to review Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede.
The largest moon in the solar system and even larger than Mercury, Ganymede has its own magnetic field and auroras. It may also have an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy surface. From a photo of Ganymede by Juno taken in June 2021, scientists were able to discern new craters on its surface.
Juno flies in an unusual elliptical orbit of Jupiter, which takes it away from the planet and closer every 43 days. It spins to stay stable as it makes its long, oval-shaped orbits.
The mission is scheduled to end in September 2025, but if the spacecraft remains in good condition, its mission could be extended.
Juno launched on August 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.
I wish you clear skies and big eyes.