NASA’s Juno probe recently made its first close flyby of Jupiter’s biggest moon Ganymede. It is also our solar system’s biggest moon. This is the first time such close-up shots of the moon have been taken in two decades. Voyager provided us with the first view of the moon 40 years ago. The new images will help scientists observe changes in its surface over time.
“This is the closest any spacecraft has come to this mammoth moon in a generation,” said Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute, in a press release. “We are going to take our time before we draw any scientific conclusions, but until then we can simply marvel at this celestial wonder.”
Unprecedented details shown in images
The images were snapped on June 7, 2021, as Juno made its close flyby of Ganymede. One image has been taken using the JunoCam imager, while the other one was taken from the Stellar Reference Unit navigation camera. The images offer never-seen-before details such as craters and the terrain of the moon.
“The conditions in which we collected the dark side image of Ganymede were ideal for a low-light camera like our Stellar Reference Unit,” said Heidi Becker, Juno’s radiation monitoring lead at JPL. “So this is a different part of the surface than seen by JunoCam in direct sunlight. It will be fun to see what the two teams can piece together.”
Ganymede is bigger than planet Mercury
The surface of Jupiter’s moon has several central pit craters. These craters are pretty complex as they either have depressions within their floors or central uplifts. Ganymede is more than 3,200 miles wide, making it bigger than planet Mercury and is also the only moon big enough to have its own magnetosphere. NASA describes it as “a bubble-shaped region of charged particles” surrounding the moon.
This flyby of Jupiter’s Galilean moon is a part of Juno’s extended mission. The probe was launched in 2016 to examine Jupiter, but now it taking long, highly elliptical orbits around the gas giant, collecting data before moving away from the planet’s radiation.