Juno spacecraft reveals Io’s vast lava lakes

Juno spacecraft reveals Io’s vast lava lakes

Io's Lava

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has captured infrared images of Jupiter’s moon Io, revealing that its entire surface is covered in lava lakes. Io is the most volcanically active world in our solar system, with about 150 volcanoes erupting at any given time. The Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) on Juno showed that around 3 percent of Io’s surface is covered by these molten lakes in regions where data is most complete.

The lakes are contained in caldera-like features, which are crater-like depressions formed by collapsing volcanoes. Io’s intense volcanic activity is caused by its elliptical orbit around Jupiter and the gravitational influence of Jupiter’s other large moons. This constant gravitational tugging creates internal stress that is released as heat through volcanism.

Io’s extensive lava lakes

The infrared observations, especially of a lava lake called Chors Patera, have provided direct insight into Io’s volcanic processes. The lava in these lakes appears to rise and fall, causing the crust to break against the lake’s walls and form high walls and a distinct lava ring around the bowl-shaped basins.

Juno’s close flybys have given researchers unprecedented views of Io’s surface, revealing not just heat signatures but also the ring-like structures of the lava lakes. This has helped scientists better understand the volcanic mechanisms on Io. “The observations show fascinating new information on Io’s volcanic processes,” said a researcher from the Southwest Research Institute in the US.

Juno’s longer-term mission to monitor and map Io’s volcanoes, especially in previously unseen regions like its north and south poles, combined with JIRAM’s capabilities, has made it an invaluable tool for studying this highly active moon. The new findings have been published in major news outlets, highlighting the importance of Io’s fiery surface as a key area of interest for planetary scientists.

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