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New images show Jupiter's moon Io in the highest definition pictures taken from Earth

Jupiter moon Io, imaged by SHARK-VIS on Jan. 10, 2024. This is the highest resolution image of Io ever obtained by an Earth-based telescope.
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
The highest-resolution image taken of Io from Earth's surface.

Newly released images of one of Jupiter’s moons are so detailed, it’s as if they were taken from a spacecraft flying by. But they were actually taken from the Earth’s surface.

The images were captured with the help of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.

The pictures of Jupiter’s volcanically active moon Io had a resolution of about 50 miles. Io is a volcanically active object. Scientists believe that is because of Jupiter and its moons keeping it locked in a gravitational tug of war, a phenomenon called tidal heating.

That’s like being able to pick out a dime in an image taken from 100 miles away.

The scientists used the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham, about 70 miles northeast of Tucson. Taking images of celestial objects from Earth comes with challenges, as our atmosphere distorts light waves.

"The term for the perfect image with no effects from distortion (either from the atmosphere or imperfections in the optical system) is 'diffraction limited,'" said researcher Al Conrad.

New advancements in Adaptive Optics and a new instrument, called SHARK-VIS, that can receive those images.

“Which is designed specifically to receive images that have been corrected by the adaptive optics at visible wavelengths. Now we're able to get this resolution, which before was really only attainable by a spacecraft," Conrad said.

Previous adaptive optics systems worked much better in infrared wavelengths, as opposed to visible light as demonstrated by the images.

The high resolution pictures also required a large telescope. The Large Binocular Telescope has two 8.4 meter mirrors, each about 27 feet in diameter.

Conrad says the tech will allow for better observations without having to go to space.

"What's important about this is that we can now routinely monitor changes on the Io surface at this high resolution. Whereas with spacecraft that's great, you get even closer and higher resolution, but those visits are far and few between," he said.

Conrad said in perfect conditions, the telescope could potentially provide images with an even higher resolution.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the size of the telescope.

large binocular telescope
Large Binocular Telescope Observatory, NASA
editorial | agency | used for summary link https://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/lbti20101206-i.html https://news.azpm.org/p/news-topical-sci/2022/8/29/212663-ground-based-telescopes-need-love-too/
The Large Binocular Telescope at Mt. Graham, Arizona.

Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.