Io Volcano Observer proposal selected for further study by NASA’s Discovery Program: More Love for Outer Space

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On February 13, NASA announced the selection of the Io Volcano Observer as one of the four proposals for future Discovery-class missions to move a step closer to launch later this decade. The good news comes just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Astrogeology Science Center (ASC) is excited about all the selections, DAVINCI, TRIDENT, VERITAS, and Io Volcano Observer (IVO). However, IVO has a special place in our hearts because it involves our current and former scientists.  The mission team is led by Alfred McEwen, a former member of USGS ASC and his deputy is Laszlo Kestay, a current ASC scientist. The science team also includes Mike Bland from ASC and will rely on many more staff if it is selected for flight in 2026.

 

Collage of images acquired by the NASA Galileo
Collage of images acquired by the NASA Galileo spacecraft’s Solid State Imager (SSI) camera showing the relative sizes and colors of the Earth, Moon, and Io. Photo Credit: Laszlo Kestay, USGS Astrogeology Science Center. Photo Credit: Laszlo Kestay.

 “We extend a hearty congratulations to them and the entire IVO team,” says Robin Fergason, Research Geophysicist, at ASC. “Astrogeology will also be involved in developing a sensor model and processing pipelines and generating controlled mosaics.”

The IVO mission plans to go into orbit around Jupiter in 2031 and have a series of close flybys of the innermost large moon, Io, over the following 4 years.  Io is famous for its many active volcanoes driven by tidal heating that melts the moon's interior. By investigating tidal heating where it is most extreme, the mission aims to learn lessons that will be applicable to other tidally-heated bodies, such as the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn that contain oceans under a frozen crust. The extreme volcanism on Io may also be a good analog for processes on the Earth and Moon shortly after their formation. See the following website for more information (https://ivo.lpl.arizona.edu/).

 

Logo for the Io Volcano Observer (IVO) used as a thumbnail is accredited to University of Arizona and John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.