Juno spacecraft captures photos of volcanic eruptions on Jupiter


One of Jupiter's moons was photographed with a red glow of fire that surprised star watchers.

The moon, known as "Io," was partially illuminated after a volcano erupted, sending down plumes of gas and lava into the atmosphere at the end of last December.

NASA's Juno probe captured images of the volcanic plume during its 17th flight from the planet, the Southwest Research Institute recently confirmed in a press release.

The gas giant's moon, which is considered the most active volcanic body in existence, was observed by researchers for more than an hour on December 21.

This also marked the midpoint of Juno's mission.

Juno's principal investigator, Scott Bolton, said the team knew they were "breaking new ground" during their multispectral campaign to see the polar region of the moon.

"But no one expected us to be lucky enough to see an active volcanic plume throwing material on the surface of the moon," Bolton said.

"This is a pretty New Year's gift showing us that Juno has the ability to clearly see feathers."

Images of the incredible event show several red and orange spots scattered across the surface of the moon.

The photos were taken by the spacecraft's camera, the JunoCam, and shared online.

JunoCam operator Candice Hansen-Koharcheck works at the Institute of Planetary Sciences and wrote about the experience of capturing the phenomenon in a blog post.

"The ground is already in the shade, but the height of the plume allows it to reflect the sunlight, just as the tops of the mountains or the Earth's clouds continue to be lit after sunset," Hansen-Koharcheck said.

NASA scientists also used instruments to measure temperature and other data during their recent flight.

Gathering information about Jupiter's moon is not a priority of Juno's mission, but it's an added bonus, said researcher at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Italy, Alberto Adriani.

"Although Jupiter's moons are not JIRAM's primary goals, every time we pass close enough to one of them, we take the opportunity for an observation," said Adriani.

"The instrument is sensitive to infrared wavelengths, which are perfect for studying Io's volcanism,

"This is one of the best Io images JIRAM has been able to collect so far."

NASA's Juno spacecraft was launched on August 5, 2011 and reached Jupiter five years later in July 2016.

Juno's mission is to be completed in July 2021, after the spacecraft slowly orbits Jupiter, collecting important data along the way.

NASA described the spacecraft's goal on its Web site, saying that Juno's main goal is to understand the origin and evolution of the planet Jupiter.

"Under its dense cloud cover, Jupiter protects the secrets of the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation," the site said.

"As our prime example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical insight into the understanding of planetary systems being discovered around other stars."

As the spacecraft slowly explores the fifth planet from the Sun, it took some stunning photos along the way.

The colorful clouds of Jupiter, in particular, captivated space enthusiasts by trying to identify familiar shapes within the mesmerizing swirls.

This story originally appeared on Fox News and was republished here with permission.


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