One of Jupiter’s moons has been photographed with a fiery red glow that has stunned star gazers.
The moon, known as ‘Io’ was partially illuminated after a volcano erupted, spewing plumes of gases and lava into the atmosphere late last December.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured images of the volcanic plume during its 17th fly-by of the planet, the Southwest Research Institute recently confirmed in a news 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 halfway point of Juno’s mission.
Juno’s principal investigator Scott Bolton said the team knew they were “breaking new ground” during their multispectral campaign to view the moon’s polar region.
“But no one expected we would get so lucky as to see an active volcanic plume shooting material off the Moon’s surface,” Mr Bolton said.
“This is quite a New Year’s present showing us that Juno has the ability to clearly see plumes.”
Images of the incredible event show several bright red and orange spots scattered across the moon’s surface.
The pictures were taken by the spacecraft’s camera, the JunoCam, and shared online.
Operator of the JunoCam, Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, works out of the Planetary Science Institute and wrote about the experience of capturing the phenomenon in a blog post.
“The ground is already in shadow, but the height of the plume allows it to reflect sunlight, much like the way mountaintops or clouds on the Earth continue to be lit after the sun has set,” Ms Hansen-Koharcheck said.
NASA scientists also used instruments to measure the temperature and other data during their recent fly-by.
Gathering information about Jupiter’s moon is not a priority of Juno’s mission — but it is an added bonus, Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics researcher Alberto Adriani said.
“Though Jupiter’s Moons are not JIRAM’s primary objectives, every time we pass close enough to one of them, we take advantage of the opportunity for an observation,” Mr Adriani said.
“The instrument is sensitive to infra-red wavelengths, which are perfect to study the volcanism of Io,
“This is one of the best images of Io that JIRAM has been able to collect so far.”
NASA’s Juno spacecraft launched on August, 5, 2011 and arrived at Jupiter five years later, in July, 2016.
Juno’s mission is aiming for completion in July, 2021, after the spacecraft slowly orbits Jupiter, collecting important data along the way.
NASA described the objective of the spacecraft on its website, saying the main goal for Juno is to understand the origin and evolution of the planet Jupiter.
“Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation,” the site said.
“As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.”
As the spacecraft slowly explores the fifth planet from the Sun, it has taken some impressive pictures along the way.
The colourful clouds of Jupiter, in particular, has captivated space enthusiasts as they try to spot familiar shapes within the mesmerising swirls.