Exploring Io’s Volcanic Activity via Hubble and Webb Telescopes

Concept image of the various features within Jupiter’s surrounding environment that this new science campaign will examine, including its massive magnetic field, along with Io’s neutral clouds and plasma torus. (Credit: Southwest Research Institute/John Spencer)

The two most powerful space telescopes ever built, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and Hubble Space Telescope, are about to gather data about the most volcanically body in the entire solar system, Jupiter’s first Galilean Moon, Io. This data will be used in combination with upcoming flybys of Io by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which is currently surveying the Jupiter system and is slated to conduct these flybys later this year and early 2024. The purpose of examining this small, volcanic moon with these two powerful telescopes and one orbiting spacecraft is for scientists to gain a better understanding of how Io’s escaping atmosphere interacts with Jupiter’s surrounding magnetic and plasma environment.

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Jupiter’s Moons Get the JWST Treatment

Spectroscopic map of Ganymede (left) obtained from JWST’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) instrument displaying light absorption in the polar regions distinctive of the molecule hydrogen peroxide. A JWST NIRSpec infrared image of Io (right) displaying volcanic eruptions at Kanehekili Fluctus (center) and Loki Patera (right) with temperatures up to 1200 Kelvin (926.85 degrees Celsius/1700 degrees Fahrenheit). Circles indicate the surfaces of both moons. (Credit: Ganymede: Cornell/Dr. Samantha Trumbo; Io: UC Berkeley/Dr. Imke de Pater)

A pair of studies published in JGR: Planets and Science Advances discuss new findings from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) regarding Jupiter’s first and third Galilean Moons, Io and Ganymede, and more specifically, how the massive Jupiter is influencing activity on these two small worlds. For Io, whose mass is about 21 percent larger than Earth’s Moon, the researchers made the first discovery of sulfur monoxide (SO) gas on the volcanically active moon. For Ganymede, which is the largest moon in the solar system and boasts twice the mass of the Earth’s Moon, the researchers made the first discovery of hydrogen peroxide, which exists in Ganymede’s polar regions.

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