Pictures from a historic flight of the largest moon in our solar system are beginning to roll.
On Monday (June 7), NASA’s Juno spacecraft approached just 1,038 kilometers from Jupiter’s huge satellite Ganymedewhich is larger than the planet Mercury. This was the closest consultation to Ganymede since May 2000, when NASA’s Galileo spacecraft reached about 1,000 km from the moon’s icy surface.
It will take some time to receive and process all the data from Monday’s meeting, but we already have a taste: The first two images of the flight have landed on Earth and NASA published them online on Tuesday (June 8th).
Connected: Pictures of Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon
One of the images clicked by JunoCam tool, shows almost the entire side of Ganymede, which is a crater that is believed to hide a huge ocean of liquid water under its icy shell. (This ocean is probably sandwiched between two ice sheets, so it’s not as astrobiologically interesting as the groundwater of the other moon, Jupiter. Europe and the moon Saturn Enceladus. These other buried oceans are in contact with the rocky interiors of their moons, making various complex chemical reactions possible, scientists say.
The JunoCam image, which has a resolution of about 1 km per pixel, was taken using the instrument’s green filter. The image is in black and white, but the mission team will be able to create a color portrait after the versions captured with the red and blue filters of JunoCam, NASA officials said.
The second photo was courtesy of the Stellar Reference Unit, a black-and-white camera that Juno used for navigation. This image, which has a resolution of 0.6 to 0.9 km at 0.37 miles to 0.56 miles per pixel, shows Ganymede’s side against the sun, which is dimly lit by light bouncing off Jupiter.
“The conditions under which we collected Ganymede’s dark side image were ideal for a low-light camera like our star reference block,” said Heidi Becker, head of Juno’s radiation monitoring at NASA’s Southern California Jet Propulsion Laboratory. said in a statement.
“So it’s a different part of the surface than seen by JunoCam in direct sunlight,” Becker said. “It will be fun to see what the two teams can combine.”
Juno launched in August 2011 and arrived in Jupiter in July 2016. The solar probe examines Jupiter’s composition, internal structure and magnetic and gravitational fields, collecting data that should help scientists better understand how Jupiter and our solar system have formed and evolved.
From time to time, Juno turned his sharp eyes to other objects in Jovian’s system, such as Ganymede, 3,273 miles (5,268 km) wide. Observations made during Monday’s flight could reveal key insights into the moon’s composition, ice sheet and radiation environment, among other features, NASA officials said.
Such data can help inform and guide future missions to the Jupiter system, including the European Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft scheduled to launch in 2022 to study closely Ganymede and his Galilean moon counterparts Europe and Callisto
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow it on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.