NASA launched Juno in 2011 on a mission to study Jupiter. We managed to send back invaluable data and some really amazing photos of the greatest gas giant in our solar system. Now Juno enjoys an extended mission focusing on the planet’s rings and lunar system. NASA recently pointed Juno at the moon Ganymede, and the spacecraft has just sent some incredible photos.
Juno reached Jupiter in 2016 and completed a series of very eccentric orbits around the planet. This allowed the probe to avoid being fried by Jupiter’s intense radiation belts. NASA even chose to keep the spacecraft in its lingerie 53-day orbit of Jupiter early due to engine problems. Juno has worked fine ever since, but no one wanted to risk losing the mission so early. And now we are taking advantage of this caution with a fully functional Juno that is now galvanically free around the Jovis system.
NASA set Juno on course for a Ganymede plane on June 7, marking the first time a spacecraft has made a close approach to the celestial body in more than 20 years. The last visitor was NASA’s Galileo orbiter, which studied Jupiter between 1995 and 2003. In 2000, it flew by Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system and the ninth largest object in all. Like Europe and Enceladus, scientists believe that Ganymede could have an ocean underground that could support life.
Juno flew past the moon at an altitude of 645 miles, close enough that JunoCam could capture nearly an entire hemisphere on the planet in green, blue and red filters. It allowed NASA to generate the above true color image of the huge moon. The JunoCam image has a resolution of approx. 1 kilometer pr. Pixel, but there are even sharper images from the Stellar Reference Unit, a navigation camera that helps the spacecraft stay on course. This camera is monochrome (not a big problem for a flat gray planetoid) and has a resolution of between 0.37 to 0.56 miles (600 to 900 meters) per second. Pixel.
The images show the cratered surface of the planet in incredible detail. There are also long strips that cross the moon, similar to Europe’s Linea without the characteristic color. Scientists speculate that the grooves may be the result of tectonic activity driven by the intense gravity of Jupiter, known as tidal warming.
NASA has so far only drawn a few images from Juno. It will have more data in the coming days, all of which will be displayed on the project’s public repository for your viewing experience.