We’ve Just Managed to Photograph Io Like Never Before. The New Photos Let Us Keep Track of Its Volcanic Activity From Earth

  • Jupiter’s satellite is our solar system's most volcanically active place.

  • With this new image, we can distinguish changes as small as 50 miles wide.

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Pablo Martínez-Juarez

It’s not the sharpest or most impressive image of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. However, the latest photo captured by the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) telescope has significant importance. It was taken from Mount Graham, a mountain in southern Arizona where the LBT is located.

430 million miles away. The LBT telescope recently captured a new image of Io. This is the most accurate image ever captured from our planet, with enough resolution to distinguish features on the satellite as small as 50 miles wide.

The image was taken on January 10, 2024. According to the calculations from Theskylive, on that day, Jupiter was about 430 million miles from Earth, which gives us an estimate of the distance to the innermost of its large moons.

This distance is significantly greater than the usual minimum distance between the planets (about 365 million miles) and somewhat less than the average distance of about 444 million miles.

Volcanic world. Io is the most volcanically active place in the solar system. Its intense geological activity is due to tidal forces. Io is similar in size to the Earth and orbits around Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

As a result, Jupiter’s gravitational force, as well as the forces from the other two closest Jovian satellites, Ganymede and Callisto, deform Io, causing internal friction that heats up the rock. This, consequently, results in intense volcanic activity.

Seeing how Io changes. The recent high-resolution images of Io have revealed some significant changes on the surface of the Galilean moon, particularly a resurgence in Pele, one of its main volcanoes.

“Io… presents a unique opportunity to learn about the mighty eruptions that helped shape the surfaces of the Earth and the moon in their distant pasts,” Al Conrad, an associate staff scientist at the LBT Observatory and co-author of a paper on the new images published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, said in a recent press release.

According to study co-author Ashley Davies, the changes observed in the images are likely deposits of lava and sulfur, indicating an eruption at Pillan Patera, a sulfur-rich area of the Pele volcano. “Before SHARK-VIS observations, such resurfacing events were impossible to observe from Earth,” she added.

SHARK-VIS. The LBT captured the new image of Io using a new tool called SHARK-VIS. SHARK-VIS is a high-contrast imaging instrument designed to compensate for the “blurring” effect of Earth’s atmosphere on surface observatory images.

Also closely watched. This isn’t the most accurate image ever captured of Jupiter’s moon. So far, several probes have managed to approach and capture this satellite up close. NASA’s Juno spacecraft, the latest to analyze Io’s volcanoes closely, has managed to capture some of its most spectacular images.

Image | NASA/INAF/Large Binocular Telescope Observatory/Georgia State University; IRV-band observations by SHARK-VIS/F. Pedichini; processing by D. Hope, S. Jefferies, G. Li Causi

Related | NASA’s Europa Clipper Is Sending a ‘Message in a Bottle’ to Jupiter With 2.6 Million Names

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