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Jupiter's huge moon Ganymede stuns with a view from NASA's Juno probe

Scientists are using infrared light to better explore Jupiter's satellite Ganymede, the largest satellite in our solar system.

Now, as we celebrate 10 years since the launch of NASA's Juno mission from Earth, the spacecraft has presented us with stunning images from its orbit around Jupiter, including new infrared views of Ganymede taken during its last flyby of Jupiter's moon on July 20, reports by Space.com

Using the Juno Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument, which detects in infrared light what the human eye cannot see, the Juno science team has created a new infrared map of Ganymede that they hope will help them better understand the Jupiter satellite's icy crust and the ocean that lies beneath it.

“Ganymede is larger than the planet Mercury, but almost everything we're exploring on this mission to Jupiter is on a monumental scale,” said Juno Mission principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a NASA statement. “The infrared and other data collected by Juno during the flyby provide fundamental clues for understanding the evolution of Jupiter's 79 moons from their formation to the present day.”

During Juno's last encounter with Ganymede, which followed a much closer flyby on June 7, the spacecraft flew within 50,109 kilometers of Ganymede's surface.

With such a close flyby, the JIRAM instrument on Juno was able to see the northern polar region of Ganymede for the first time. The instrument also collected material composition data at both low and high altitudes on the alien moon, the statement said.

The data that Juno collected on this mission adds to its previous close flybys, as well as observations by previous probes such as NASA's Voyager mission, the Galileo, New Horizons, and the Cassini spacecraft. By observing the moon in infrared, the team was able to learn more about what Ganymede is like to better understand not only this moon but worlds like it.

“We found that the high latitudes of Ganymede are dominated by water ice with fine grains, the result of intense bombardment by charged particles,” said Alessandro Moura, one of the Juno researchers at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome.

"Conversely, low latitudes are protected by the moon's magnetic field and contain more of its original chemical composition, primarily non-aqueous ice components such as salts and organics," Mura added. "It is extremely important to characterize the unique properties of these ice regions to better understand the cosmic weathering processes to which the surface is subjected."

As Juno continues to explore the entire Jupiter system - NASA has extended the mission until September 2025 so the probe can explore Jupiter's moons and rings. The European Space Agency's new Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, scheduled for launch next year, will study all four of Jupiter's largest satellites, known as Galilean moons.

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