- “Juno carries a suite of sensitive instruments capable of seeing Ganymede in ways never before possible.”
- According to NASA, Ganymede is bigger than the planet Mercury.
- The flyby was the closest a spacecraft has come to Ganymede since 2000.
Jupiter’s largest moon had a visitor Monday.
NASA’s spacecraft Juno came within 645 miles of Ganymede, which is also the largest moon in the solar system.
The flyby was the closest a spacecraft has come to Ganymede since NASA’s Galileo spacecraft flew by on May 20, 2000.
“Juno carries a suite of sensitive instruments capable of seeing Ganymede in ways never before possible,” said Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute, in a statement issued before Monday’s flyby.
“By flying so close, we will bring the exploration of Ganymede into the 21st century, both complementing future missions with our unique sensors and helping prepare for the next generation of missions to the Jovian system,” he said.
Photos from Monday’s flyby of Ganymede should be received back here on Earth by this Friday, NASA spokesman David Agle told USA TODAY.
Along with striking imagery, the solar-powered spacecraft’s flyby was expected to yield insights into the moon’s composition, ionosphere, magnetosphere and ice shell.
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Ganymede is bigger than the planet Mercury, NASA says, and just under half the size of Earth. It’s also is the only moon in the solar system with its own magnetosphere – a bubble-shaped region of charged particles that surrounds the moon.
Until now, the only spacecraft to get a good look at Ganymede were NASA’s twin Voyager probes in 1979 and the Galileo spacecraft in 2000, Space.com said.
The massive Jovian moon will be a main target of the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission, known as JUICE, which is due to launch next year and arrive in the Jupiter system in 2029, according to Space.com.
It was the start of a busy day for Juno, mission manager Matt Johnson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement, prior to Ganymede flyby: “On Monday, we are going to race past Ganymede at almost 12 miles per second. Less than 24 hours later we’re performing our 33rd science pass of Jupiter – screaming low over the cloud tops, at about 36 miles per second.
“It is going to be a wild ride,” Johnson said.