Ganymede is the primary scientific target of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, mission. With a diameter of about 5260 km, larger than that of Pluto and Mercury, Ganymede tops the Solar-System moons’ size chart. It is the seventh moon from the gas giant (and the third among the Galilean satellites) and orbits Jupiter at a distance of more than 1 million kilometres. Researchers believe there is tidal heating on Ganymede, although to a much smaller degree than on Io and Europa. This heat could drive some tectonic activity and provide one of the necessary conditions for life to emerge: a source of energy.
This high-resolution mapping of the surface can help constrain the moon’s composition and mineralogy, and assess how habitable Ganymede could be by searching for biosignatures. Observations at various wavelengths will allow astronomers to study non-water-ice material to determine the distribution of biologically essential elements—such as carbon or oxygen—and other important elements—such as magnesium and iron—on the planetary body. The mission will also shed light on the origin and evolution of the materials on the surface by exploring which substances form at Ganymede and which are brought in from the plasma environment around the moon.
To study Ganymede in detail, Juice will enter orbit around it, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a moon in the outer Solar System. The dedicated orbital tour is expected to last about eight months and will be the final stage of the mission.
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