On Monday, NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, will take a closer look at Jupiter’s largest moon. Ganymede, the desk said in a press release. It will be the closest NASA has gotten to the largest moon in the solar system in more than 20 years – Sailing Galileo through Ganymede in 2000 – within 645 miles of the surface. The information Juno collects will provide insight into the composition of the moon and its ice shell, as well as provide data for future missions to Jupiter.
“Juno carries a series of sensitive instruments capable of seeing Ganymede in a way that has never been possible before,” said lead researcher Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “By flying so close, we are bringing Ganymede’s exploration into the 21st century, both complementing future missions with our unique sensors and preparing for the next generation of missions to the Jovian system.”
Those missions include: NASA’s Europa Clipper (launch date not yet known) and that of the European Space Agency JUpiter ICy moons Explorer [JUICE] mission, scheduled to launch next year and arrive at Jupiter in 2029 (and kudos to the ESA for going the extra mile on that acronym).
Ganymede is larger than Mercury and is the only moon in the solar system with its own magnetosphere, which NASA describes as “a bubble-shaped region of charged particles” around it. The JunoCam, which captured many of the most striking pictures of Jupiter during its mission, will only be able to take about five pictures in flight, as Ganymede will all appear and disappear from view within 25 minutes. Three hours before Juno reaches his closest point to Ganymede, his scientific instruments begin collecting data.
“Literally every second counts,” said Matt Johnson, Juno mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “On Monday we’re going to race past Ganymede at almost 12 miles per second (19 kilometers per second).” And less than 24 hours later, Juno will make its 33rd scientific transit of Jupiter, he added.
Juno is expected to get closest to Ganymede on Monday around 1:35 PM ET. You can track where Juno is now with NASAs Eyes on the Solar System Interactive.