(ORDO NEWS) — The Juno probe was tasked with studying the space leviathan Jupiter, the heavyweight of the solar system and the well-deserved “king” of the planets. However, the planet, which is almost 318 times the mass of the Earth, already has a considerable number of subjects.
The gas giant has 79 known moons (and possibly even more unknown ones), one of which is even larger than Mercury. Juno explores the relationship between some of these moons and their host planet – and sometimes captures unique images of space curiosities.
The last photo is truly breathtaking and looks like an illustration from a sci-fi novel. Jupiter looks remarkably representative, its classic bands of swirling clouds and patchy cyclones are clearly visible in the southern hemisphere in the rays of sunlight:
To the right of the giant planet, two relatively small specks float serenely against the backdrop of inky darkness. These are two of the four Galilean satellites of Jupiter – the largest of its satellites discovered by Galileo Galilei: Io with an equatorial diameter of 3643.2 km and Europa with an equatorial diameter of 3121.6 km.
Tiny gas giant moons
Each of these moons is an interesting target in itself to study. Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system, with over 400 active volcanoes on its surface. This is the result of internal gravitational stresses created on the Moon not only by Jupiter, but also by three other Galilean satellites.
This volcanic activity causes Io’s atmosphere to be enriched with sulfur dioxide erupted by volcanoes. This atmosphere is constantly leaking into space, forming a plasma torus around Jupiter itself, which is guided along the magnetic field lines and falls on the gas giant’s poles, creating permanent auroras.
The constant eruption has also coated Io itself with various sulfur compounds that give the moon a predominantly yellow tint.
Meanwhile, Europa is an object of interest in the search for life beyond Earth. Beneath its pale icy shell lies a colossal liquid ocean. Although this moon is far from the Sun, it too can be internally heated by gravitational stress.
If the calculations of scientists are correct, then there may be hydrothermal sources at the bottom of this subglacial ocean. Here on Earth, they are a haven for microbial communities that rely not on photosynthesis, but on chemosynthesis. Roughly speaking, they use chemical reactions to obtain food and energy for life.
This led astrobiologists to believe that, of all the worlds in the solar system, icy moons such as Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus might be the most likely places to find extraterrestrial life.
The probe will visit Europe, which is also the target of a special mission planned for 2024, this September. It will be the closest probe to the Moon in decades. Meanwhile, flights over Io are scheduled for late 2023 and early 2024.
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