CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla .– NASA’s Juno spacecraft provided the first close-ups of Jupiter’s largest moon in two decades.
Juno drove past the icy ice of Ganymede on Monday, passing less than 1038 kilometers (645 miles). The last time a spacecraft came this close was in 2000, when NASA’s Galileo spacecraft scanned the largest moon in our solar system.
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NASA released the first two images of Juno on Tuesday, highlighting the Ganymede craters and long, narrow features likely linked to tectonic faults. One shows the far side of the moon, opposite the sun.
“It’s the closest spacecraft to this gigantic moon in a generation,” said Juno lead scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We’re going to take our time before drawing any scientific conclusions, but until then we can just marvel at this heavenly wonder – the only moon in our solar system larger than the planet Mercury.”
Ganymede is one of the 79 moons known around Jupiter, a gas giant. Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered Ganymede in 1610, along with Jupiter’s next three largest moons.
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Launched ten years ago, Juno has been orbiting Jupiter for five years.