NASA’s Juno mission has made a fascinating discovery on Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. The spacecraft’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) spectrometer collected data during a close flyby of the icy moon, revealing the presence of mineral salts and organic compounds. This exciting finding has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Astronomy and could provide valuable insights into the origin of Ganymede and the composition of its deep ocean.
Ganymede, measuring larger than the planet Mercury, is known for housing a vast internal ocean of water beneath its icy surface. Previous observations had suggested the existence of salts and organics, but the low spatial resolution limited scientists from making definitive conclusions. However, during a close encounter on June 7, 2021, Juno flew over Ganymede at a minimum altitude of 650 miles, allowing the JIRAM instrument to capture high-resolution infrared images and spectra of the moon’s surface.
This data, achieved through unprecedented spatial resolution for infrared spectroscopy, enabled scientists to detect and analyze the distinctive spectral features of non-water-ice materials. The discovery of ammoniated salts and carbonate salts on Ganymede offers clues regarding the moon’s formation process. It is believed that Ganymede accumulated these materials during its early development.
Interestingly, Ganymede’s magnetic field plays a crucial role in preserving these salts and organics on its surface. This field shields certain latitudes from the energetic particle bombardment caused by Jupiter’s magnetic field. Consequently, the precious materials are protected and can be observed by the Juno spacecraft.
In addition to Ganymede, Juno has also conducted observations on other Jovian moons, such as Europa and Io. The mission has further flybys scheduled for Io on December 30, promising more exciting discoveries in the future.
The findings from the Juno mission on Ganymede have ignited excitement among scientists and space enthusiasts worldwide. This breakthrough could deepen our understanding of the composition and formation of celestial bodies, providing us with fascinating insights into the mysteries of our solar system.
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