Sunday, January 11, 2009

Monthly Moon Round-up: Ganymede

"Ganymede, one of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter, is the largest moon in the Solar System. With a diameter of 5,260 kilometers it is even larger than planets Mercury and Pluto and just over three quarters the size of Mars. Ganymede is locked in synchronous rotation with Jupiter. This detailed mosaic of images from the Galileo spacecraft shows the trailing hemisphere of this planet-sized moon. Speckled with bright young craters, Ganymede's surface shows a mixture of old, dark, cratered terrain and lighter regions laced with grooves and ridges. Ganymede's true colors tend toward subtle browns and grays, but this mosaic's colors have been enhanced to increase surface contrasts. The violet shades extending from the top and bottom are likely due to frost particles in Ganymede's polar regions."

"How hazy is Jupiter's upper atmosphere? To help find out, astronomers deployed the Hubble Space Telescope to watch Jupiter eclipse its moon Ganymede. Although Ganymede circles Jupiter once a week, a particularly useful occultation occurs more rarely. Such an occultation was captured in great visual detail in April 2007. When near Jupiter's limb, Ganymede reflects sunlight though Jupiter's upper atmosphere, allowing astronomers to search for haze by noting a slight dimming at different colors. One result of this investigation was the above spectacular image, where bands of clouds that circle Jupiter are clearly visible, as well as magnificent swirling storm systems such as the Great Red Spot. Ganymede, at the image bottom, also shows noticeable detail on its dark icy surface."

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