(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS)
Swooping low over Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, NASA’s Juno probe has snapped the initial close-up photographs of the suspended giant in more than two decades — and they’re breathtaking.
Juno zoomed as close as 645 miles (1,038 km ) from the icy surface of this solar system biggest moon Monday (June 7), giving the spacecraft just a 25-minute window to snap photographs — long enough for five strikes —- before it zipped off on its 33rd orbit of Jupiter.
Two photographs from the flyby published by NASA Tuesday (June 8) — among Ganymede’s mild, sun-facing side and the other of its own dark side — reveal an icy, inhospitable surface pockmarked with craters from asteroid impacts, as well as long, narrow striations maybe caused by tectonic fault lines.
“This is the closest any spacecraft has come to this mammoth moon in a generation,” Juno main investigator Scott Bolton, a physicist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a declaration . “We are going to take our time before we draw any scientific conclusions, but until then we can simply marvel at this celestial wonder.”
NASA’s Galileo spacecraft captured the final pictures of the ginormous moon, which is the ninth-largest thing in the solar system, more than 20 years ago. Prior to this, the other detailed close-ups came in the Voyager missions in the late 1970s.
First discovered by Galileo Galilei at 1610, Ganymede is among those gas giant Jupiter’s 79 moons. At 3,270 kilometers (5,260 km) wide, Ganymede is bigger than the planet Mercury and the only moon in our solar system using its magnetic field.
The Juno science team will now scour the newest pictures for key clues about the composition, ionosphere (the upper section of an atmosphere where electrons are ionised by solar power ), magnetic field, radiation environment and ice shell of this Jovian moon, as well as explore whether any areas of the moon are changed since our final clear appearance. The level of detail offered by Juno’s camera has allowed the staff to take photos using a resolution of approximately 0.6 to 1.2 kilometers (1 to 2 kilometers ).
Launched just under a decade back in August 2011, Juno has been orbiting Jupiter for five years, and the spacecraft is just a month away from the end of its primary mission. NASA plans to maintain the probe surveying the stormy surface of Jupiter until 2025, together with moves over two of the gas giant’s other big moons, Europa and Io, lined up for 2023.
Originally printed on Live Science.