Jupiter’s Moon Io Could Have A Secret Volcano That No One Knew About

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The fact that Io has enough volcanoes to go around is no secret.

This small Galilean moon — which, according to data from NASA’s Juno mission, leaves footprints in Jupiter’s aurorae whenever it comes close to the gas giant, the Inquisitr reported last week — is extremely temperamental.

“Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the solar system, with hundreds of volcanoes, some erupting lava fountains up to 250 miles high,” NASA revealed a few years ago.

But it seems the Jovian moon might harbor one extra volcano that has never been documented before.

When the Juno spacecraft made a flyby of Io last December, one of the instruments on board the space probe picked up something that scientists had never seen before on the surface of the Jovian moon.

In Io’s southern hemisphere, close to the moon’s south pole, Juno’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument located a previously unknown heat source, which could mean a whole new volcano may have been discovered on Io, NASA reported on July 13.

“The new Io hotspot JIRAM picked up is about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the nearest previously mapped hotspot,” said Alessandro Mura, a co-investigator of the Juno mission who is affiliated with 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 discovery was showcased yesterday with a photo release from NASA, indicating the exact position of the newfound hotspot (and the prospective volcano that could be associated with it) on the surface of Io.

Jupiter's moon Io.
Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

The image was generated from data gathered by JIRAM on December 16, when Juno came within 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) from the Io’s surface.

The scale seen to the right of the photo “depicts the range of temperatures displayed in the infrared image,” explained NASA, with higher temperatures depicted in brighter colors and lower temperatures shown in darker colors.

The Juno team is still analyzing the data collected during the spacecraft’s December 16 flyby of the Jovian moon. More clues on this possible secret volcano on Io could be unlocked with the upcoming Juno flyby, slated for next week.

This will be the 13th science pass that the space probe performs in Jupiter’s system and is scheduled for July 16. Since NASA has now extended its Juno mission until July 2021, there will be a lot more flybys to come, the Inquisitr reported in early June.

Data from past exploratory missions that ventured in the Jovian system, as well as from observations with ground-based telescopes, have uncovered more than 150 active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon. And, according to researchers’ estimates, Io could be hiding almost twice as many more.