While a lot of us are fixated on exploration on Mars, NASA has been hard at work utilizing the latest technology that enables them to study other parts of the solar system like never before. Currently, NASA is undergoing a mission to one of Jupiter’s moons, and the organization has been especially interested in this particular planet for quite a while now.
Just last year, NASA underwent their Juno mission in an effort to learn more about the water content in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Jupiter has been a particular point of interest for some time, mainly because it’s believed to be the first planet to have formed in our solar system. The gaseous plant is believed to have incorporated into its own atmosphere much of the matter of the sun, including dust and gas, and therefore, understanding how much water makes up the atmosphere gives us a critical piece of information into not only the planet itself, but the entire solar system.
Juno’s mission was successful and determined that Jupiter is made up of 0.25% water. We knew that Jupiter contained some type of water content based on the recording of lightning on the planet some years back, during the Voyager mission. Understanding how much water the plant possesses allows us to better understand how Jupiter was formed, as the predecessor to all of the other planets that we study to paint a more complete picture.
Jupiter’s Moons: A Point of Fascination
Jupiter’s moons also give us a lot of insight into the planet itself. A planet’s moon(s) do not just stabilize the planet, but they play a crucial role in maintaining the climate of the planet as well. Therefore, studying Jupiter’s moons allows us to solve even more riddles about the nature of the planet itself.
That being said, NASA has been extremely dedicated to observing Jupiter’s moons like never before. Ganymede is Jupiter’s largest moon, and it is, in fact, the largest moon in our solar system. It has been 20 years since a NASA mission visited Ganymede, but a mission is currently underway to observe it once again with stunning technology that didn’t exist two decades ago.
Juno is once again the spacecraft chosen for the job, and with this mission, it will maintain only a 645-foot distance from the moon, which will allow it to record images that give us greater insight into its atmosphere. NASA scientists are particularly interested in studying the moon’s ice shell in order to gain an understanding into how it was formed, and more about the distinctive purpose that it serves. Further, scientists have taken special interest in Ganymede because it’s the only moon known to have a magnetic field, which is responsible for its completely unique glow. This magnetic field has been largely unobserved due to a prior lack in technology sensitive enough to properly analyze it. But, modern NASA instruments will allow for the collection of data that wasn’t possible up until now.
The primary goal of the current mission to Ganymede is to focus on the ice shell in order to determine its composition, structure, and depth, and also to hopefully understand how the ice shell is maintained, and whether or not it’s self-replenishing.
NASA’s Legacy of Uncovering Jupiter’s Secrets
Anticipating this mission shows us how far NASA has come. The first journey into the planet took place in 1973, with limited equipment and far less understanding of what astronauts would encounter. Then, NASA captivated our imaginations just a few years later with the Voyager 1 and 2, which captured images including the planet’s rings and moons for us to marvel over. Between 1995 and 2003, the Galileo, aptly named after the astronomer who first observed the planet from Earth in the 17th century, placed a probe into the planet’s atmosphere to record more data than ever before pertaining to Jupiter’s moons and rings. In 2016, Juno’s first mission gave us access to data pertaining to the atmosphere and interior structure.
If NASA’s current mission is successful, it will be the first time we have had access to close-up visual data of Jupiter’s Ganymede since the year 2000. The moon, which is larger than the planet Mercury, could very well provide us with more insight than ever before into not only its own structure, but Jupiter as well. On board Juno will be the latest developments in NASA technology, including three individual cameras, high-tech radio instruments and an ultraviolet spectrograph.
Soon, we should find out how the mission went, and like everyone else, we hope that we can see new and compelling images of Ganymede that give us more insight into its own and Jupiter’s atmospheres than ever before.