20 Year Old Mission Shows New Data on Auroras on Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede


Even though they’re 20 years old data, scientists have just discovered that the Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is somewhat similar to our Earth. Ganymede has auroras over the polar caps and is surrounded by a strong magnetic field. Scientists believe that it might even have oceans.

NASA has stated on 30 April that the Galileo spacecraft that explored the Jupiter system in the period of 1995 – 2003 has a lot of data that can help scientists discover new information on Ganymede’s environment. The findings have been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Ganymede is the biggest moon in our solar system, only a bit smaller than Mars. It is also a unique solar-system body as it has an internally generated magnetosphere. The magnetic field wraps Ganymede and protects it from cosmic radiation, similar to the magnetic field on Earth. It’s what causes auroras to appear over the moon’s poles.

Could Ganymede’s Magnetosphere Hide Life Forms?

Now scientists are excited to learn more about Ganymede’s magnetosphere, helping them to understand how life could exist on these space bodies in solar systems or on exoplanets:

Glyn Collinson, the lead author of a recent paper on the magnetosphere of Ganymede and research associate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Maryland), stated in an interview:

“We are now coming back over 20 years later to take a new look at some of the data that was never published and finish the story. We found there’s a whole piece no one knew about.”

Studying Plasma To Understand Ganymede’s Subsurface Oceans and Its Auroras

The Galileo spacecraft used a Plasma Subsystem (PLS) instrument to capture data about plasma. The magnetic field directs plasma and causes the particles to collect at the poles, causing auroras. The PLS instrument took the data from both Ganymede’s magnetic field and Jupiter’s magnetosphere that can influence the plasma around Ganymede.

While the spacecraft flew by Jupiter and Ganymede, it observed strong flows that moved between the planet and its huge moon – probably because of Jupiter’s own radiation. NASA officials stated that when the magnetospheres of the planet and its moon reconnected, there was an intense pump of plasma moving toward the moon’s poles, creating bright auroras.

All the data collected from the Galileo PLS instrument could also help scientists learn about Ganymede’s subsurface oceans, which are shielded by the magnetosphere.


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