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Keep Galileo's Eyes Open, Say Petitioning Scientists

We want more Io say scientists
Leavenworth - April 24, 2001
NASA recently extended the successful Galileo spacecraft's mission until January 2003 to continue study of Jupiter's fascinating moons, particularly the extremely volcanic moon Io.

Io - the most active world yet discovered - features modes of eruption not seen on Earth for billions of years, mountains taller than Mt. Everest, and a unique and poorly understood surface chemistry based on sulfur.

But scientists say that a planned powerdown of Galileo's imaging suite at the end of this year will hamstring efforts to solve Io's many mysteries.

NASA has funded Galileo's instrument package through 2001 to include two further flybys of Io. NASA has also planned another Io flyby, during Galileo's thirty-third orbit (I33), on January 17, 2002.

Dipping to within 100 km (62 miles) of Io's surface - lower than any previous Jupiter-system flyby - Galileo will fly over Io's sub-jovian hemisphere, which has never been imaged before at high resolution.

Unfortunately, funding for all imaging during the I33 flyby has recently been withdrawn, and the only chance to image the mysterious features on this hemisphere of Io at high resolution will be lost unless the decision is reversed.

The only images of this hemisphere returned from Galileo so far have been at low resolution, taken at very long range during the orbital tour - show several gigantic volcanoes and still-hot lava fields of varying composition.

If funds are reinstated, Galileo will image the mountains Hi'iaka, Gish Bar, and Pan, a pair of enigmatic lava domes named Apis and Inachus Tholi, and the volcanoes Kanehekili and Mbali.

Galileo will also measure the temperature of the volcanoes Kanehekili, Prometheus, Marduk, and Pillan and search for hot spots, which provide clues to the way Io dissipates its tidal heat.

"Every time we look at Io we see something unexpected and amazing. I33 gives Io one more chance to blow our socks off! The fact that we will be looking at a hemisphere not seen close-up since Voyager increases the chances of new and surprising discoveries," commented John Spencer of the Lowell Observatory.

"This is an exceptional opportunity to view Io's Jupiter facing hemisphere at high-resolution using Galileo's remote sensing capabilities. We have already done a lot of the necessary work. The observations are already planned and designed. Nobody wants to miss this unique chance," says Rosaly Lopes of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Jason Perry, a high school junior from Leavenworth, Kansas, has created a petition to persuade NASA to reverse its decision. The petition - "Pennies for Pele" - was started on March 30, 2001 and has already been signed by 79 Io scientists and others from around the world.

The cost of performing remote sensing during the January 2002 flyby is only $1.5 million dollars. This represents 0.1% of the funds spent to send Galileo to Jupiter, and a ten-thousandth of NASA's annual budget.

"The funding/science ratio for imaging at the January 2002 flyby is ridiculously cheap. Considering the amount of money it took us to get there, not funding I33 imaging makes absolutely no sense," commented Joseph Plassmann of the Planetary Image Research Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona.

It is hoped that 1000 signatures can be obtained before August 6, the date of the next Io flyby. Copies of the petition will then be passed to the NASA's Office of Space Science.

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Two Spacecraft Watch A Towering Inferno On Io
Tucson - March 29, 2001
Two NASA spacecraft jointly observing Jupiter's moon Io this winter captured images of a towering volcanic plume never seen before and a bright red ring of fresh surface deposits surrounding its source.

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