A NASA spacecraft is expected to pass one of Jupiter’s moons on Thursday, giving astronomers a close view of one of the most volcanic spots in the solar system.
The Juno probe, orbiting Jupiter since July 2016, is expected to fly past Io, one of the 80 known moons of the Jupiter system. Io’s magma-encrusted surface is dotted with hundreds of volcanoes, and scientists are keen to understand how these eruptions alter Jupiter’s magnetosphere and what effect they may have on the planet’s vivid auroras.
Over the next year and a half, the Juno spacecraft will conduct a total of nine flybys of Io. Two of the close encounters will bring the probe within 930 miles of the moon’s surface.
Earlier this year, Juno captured a spectacular view of Io from a distance of about 50,000 miles. Io’s volcanically active surface, dotted with hundreds of volcanoes and marred by lakes of molten silicate lava, appeared to glow in the infrared image. The bright spots in the portrait indicate areas of higher temperature, according to NASA.
Juno launched into space in 2011 and arrived on Jupiter five years later. The spacecraft then spent another five years studying the largest planet in the solar system, peering into Jupiter’s dense clouds, and studying the planet’s atmosphere and weather. The expedition was designed to help astronomers understand how Jupiter formed and evolved, and how other gas giants in the solar system came to be.
Last year, NASA extended the Juno mission until September 2025. The probe continues to study Jupiter, as well as the many moons in the planet system.
The spacecraft has already made close flybys of two other moons: Ganymede in 2021 and Europa earlier this year.
“With each close flyby, we were able to gain a wealth of new information,” Scott Bolton, associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and principal investigator of the Juno mission, said in a statement. “The Juno sensors are designed to study Jupiter, but we were excited to see how well they can serve double duty observing Jupiter’s moons.”
During its extended mission, the Juno spacecraft will examine Jupiter’s interior structure, internal magnetic field, atmosphere and auroras. The spacecraft will also fly through clouds of charged particles surrounding Europa and Io multiple times, gathering data on radiation levels in those regions, according to NASA. The agency said mission scientists also hope to spend time studying dust in Jupiter’s faint rings.
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com