Images released by NASA show the north pole of the largest moon in the Solar System.
The Juno space probe was able to capture images of Ganymede’s north pole, one of Jupiter’s 79 known moons, for the first time.
The images allowed scientists to observe how the icy surface at the north pole of Ganymede was affected by the constant plasma rains from Jupiter’s magnetosphere falling on it.
“It is a phenomenon that we have been able to learn about for the first time with Juno because we are able to see the north pole in its entirety,” said Alessandro Mura, a researcher at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, in a statement.
On Earth, the magnetic field offers a path for solar plasma to reach the atmosphere and create the northern lights. But in Ganymede there is no atmosphere – that is why the plasma coming from Jupiter’s magnetosphere travels through the moon’s magnetic field to the poles and reaches its icy surface.
With a diameter of 5,268 kilometers (3,273.5 mi), Ganymede is 26% larger than the planet Mercury. It is the largest moon in the Solar System, and is the only one to have its own magnetic field.
Scientists believe that there is a huge ocean beneath the thick icy surface of the natural satellite, which was discovered in 1610 by the physicist, mathematician, and astronomer Galileo Galilei.
Juno was launched into space on August 5, 2011, to collect information about Jupiter. NASA plans to end the mission in July 2021; however, in 2022, the European Space Agency (ESA) is due to launch the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft, which will explore not only Ganymede but Europa and Callisto, other Jupiter moons.