‘It’s going to be a wild ride’: NASA spacecraft Juno to fly by Jupiter’s moon Ganymede today

Story Highlights

  • "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 will be the closest a spacecraft has come to Ganymede since 2000.

Jupiter’s largest moon is getting a visitor today.

Monday afternoon, NASA’s spacecraft Juno will come within 645 miles of Ganymede, which is also the largest moon in the solar system. 

The flyby will be 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. 

“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.

Along with striking imagery, the solar-powered spacecraft’s flyby will 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.

The mosaic and geologic images of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede were assembled incorporating the best available imagery from NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. (Photo: USGS Astrogeology Science Center/Wheaton/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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’ll be a busy day for Juno, according to Juno mission manager Matt Johnson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “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. 

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