A NASA spacecraft made the closest flight to Jupiter’s largest moon in 21 years on Monday (June 7th).
Juno shaved by the icy moon of Ganymede safe at an altitude of only 645 miles (1000 kilometers) at 12:56 EDT (1656 GMT). But for a while, we won’t get any images or other information, as NASA usually lands on Earth when the spacecraft is less busy collecting data.
“This is our first close Ganymede flight in 20 years! Watch for images and scientific results,” NASA’s Solar System Twitter account said during the flight. Ganymede’s last such omission was in 2000 by Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter and flew from many of its moons between 1
Connected: Pictures of Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon
Juno’s next trick will be to accelerate once more over the cloudy peaks of Jupiter, on his 34th such pass in intense radiation environment, on Tuesday (June 8th), the agency added. Juno is on a long-term mission to learn more about the interior and weather of the planet and has been approved for another extension of the mission, this time until 2025, earlier this year based on its scientific return since arriving in the Jupiter system in 2016.
Ganymede’s recent flight may offer crucial information for the future study of Jupiter’s icy moons, where two missions will be explored in the 2030s: JUICE European Space Agency mission and Europa Clipper mission from NASA. Ice moons are considered promising habitats due to their aquatic environment and energy source from the gravitational tug to nearby planets.
The overflight involves sounding from several of Juno’s instruments and cameras: three different cameras, radio instruments, an ultraviolet spectrograph (UVS), the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instruments, and a microwave radiometer (MWR).
The latest instrument was trying to identify the ingredients of the lighter and darker spots of Ganymede’s ice sheet, NASA said. Only five images from the spacecraft’s stellar camera, JunoCam, are expected to return to Earth as the moon appeared and disappeared from the spacecraft’s field of vision in just 25 minutes during the flight.
“Juno carries a set of sensitive instruments capable of seeing Ganymede in ways never before possible,” said lead researcher Scott Bolton, a space scientist at the Southwestern Research Institute in San Antonio. says a statement from NASA. “By flying so close, we will take Ganymede’s research into the 21st century.”
Ganymede will be the main target of the JUICE mission, which will also explore Callisto and Europe. Before Juno, only three other spacecraft had seen Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system up close. NASA’s twin Voyager Spaceship flew from the moon in 1979, and Galileo made the aforementioned close passage of Ganymede in 2000. The moon is larger than the small planet mercury and is the only known moon that has a magnetic field.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.