JWST Takes a Detailed Look at Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede

Juno captured this image of Ganymede in July 2022. Now the JWST is taking a look at our Solar System's largest moon. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

Nature doesn’t conform to our ideas of neatly-contained categories. Many things in nature blur the lines we try to draw around them. That’s true of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, the largest moon in the Solar System.

The JWST took a closer look at Ganymede, the moon that’s kind of like a planet, to understand its surface better.

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A New Weather Feature was Hiding in JWST’s Picture of Jupiter

Image of Jupiter taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) in July 2022 displays striking features of the largest planet in the solar system in infrared light, with brightness indicating high altitudes. One of these features is a jet stream within the large bright band just above Jupiter’s equator, which was the focus of this study. (Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, R. Hueso (University of the Basque Country), I. de Pater (University of California, Berkeley), T. Fouchet (Observatory of Paris), L. Fletcher (University of Leicester), M. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), J. DePasquale (STScI))

In July 2022, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) used its NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) to capture stunning infrared images of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. Within these striking images, scientists recently discovered a jet stream in the northern latitudes just over Jupiter’s equator and 20-35 kilometers (12-21 miles) above Jupiter’s cloud tops. This jet stream stretches approximately 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) with speeds of 515 kilometers per hour (320 miles per hour), more than double the speed of a Category 5 hurricane on Earth.

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Exploring Io’s Volcanic Activity via Hubble and Webb Telescopes

Concept image of the various features within Jupiter’s surrounding environment that this new science campaign will examine, including its massive magnetic field, along with Io’s neutral clouds and plasma torus. (Credit: Southwest Research Institute/John Spencer)

The two most powerful space telescopes ever built, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and Hubble Space Telescope, are about to gather data about the most volcanically body in the entire solar system, Jupiter’s first Galilean Moon, Io. This data will be used in combination with upcoming flybys of Io by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which is currently surveying the Jupiter system and is slated to conduct these flybys later this year and early 2024. The purpose of examining this small, volcanic moon with these two powerful telescopes and one orbiting spacecraft is for scientists to gain a better understanding of how Io’s escaping atmosphere interacts with Jupiter’s surrounding magnetic and plasma environment.

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Jupiter’s Moons Get the JWST Treatment

Spectroscopic map of Ganymede (left) obtained from JWST’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) instrument displaying light absorption in the polar regions distinctive of the molecule hydrogen peroxide. A JWST NIRSpec infrared image of Io (right) displaying volcanic eruptions at Kanehekili Fluctus (center) and Loki Patera (right) with temperatures up to 1200 Kelvin (926.85 degrees Celsius/1700 degrees Fahrenheit). Circles indicate the surfaces of both moons. (Credit: Ganymede: Cornell/Dr. Samantha Trumbo; Io: UC Berkeley/Dr. Imke de Pater)

A pair of studies published in JGR: Planets and Science Advances discuss new findings from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) regarding Jupiter’s first and third Galilean Moons, Io and Ganymede, and more specifically, how the massive Jupiter is influencing activity on these two small worlds. For Io, whose mass is about 21 percent larger than Earth’s Moon, the researchers made the first discovery of sulfur monoxide (SO) gas on the volcanically active moon. For Ganymede, which is the largest moon in the solar system and boasts twice the mass of the Earth’s Moon, the researchers made the first discovery of hydrogen peroxide, which exists in Ganymede’s polar regions.

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UK Professor Granted JWST Observation Time to Study Jupiter’s Upper Atmosphere

Professor Tom Stallard (Credit: Simon Veit-Wilson/Northumbria University)

A professor from Northumbria University in the North East region of England has been granted telescope time with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) later this year to study Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, also known as its ionosphere. Being granted such access to JWST is extremely competitive which makes getting access to use its powerful instruments to study the cosmos a very high honor.

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Jupiter’s “Stripes” Change Color. Now We Might Know Why

Infrared images of Jupiter obtained by a ground-based telescope displaying changes in the stripes of Jupiter's clouds between 2001 and 2011 (dashed blue lines). (Credit: Arrate Antuñano/NASA/IRTF/NSFCam/SpeX)

While Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is one of the most well-known spectacles in the solar system, Jupiter’s clouds and stripes that are responsible for the planet’s weather patterns are highly regarded, as well. Though not nearly as visible in an amateur astronomy telescope, Jupiter’s multicolored, rotating, and swirling cloud stripes are a sight to behold for any astronomy fan when seen in up-close images. And, what makes these stripes unique is they have been observed to change color from time to time, but the question of what causes this color change to occur has remained elusive.

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Juice is Fully Deployed. It’s Now in its Final Form, Ready to Meet Jupiter’s Moons in 2031

Still image from a video animation of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) spacecraft. (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)

Launched on April 14, 2023, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice; formerly known as JUICE) spacecraft has finally completed the unfurling of its solar panel arrays and plethora of booms, probes, and antennae while en route to the solar system’s largest planet.

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Hurray! Juice Deploys its Stuck Antenna

One of the stuck parts of Juice's RIME antenna deploys. Credit: ESA/Juice mission.

ESA’s Juice mission launched last month on April 14, beginning its long journey to explore Jupiter’s icy moons, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. But soon after launch, mission controllers realized a 16-meter (52.5 ft)-long antenna for a radar instrument was jammed and couldn’t deploy. The Radar for Icy Moons Exploration (RIME) antenna is mission critical, as it gathers data for the instrument that will be able to map beneath the ice at these moons.

But, whew, the story has a happy ending. After nearly a month of efforts to free the stuck antenna, engineers figured out a fix for the RIME antenna. They fired a mechanical device in the jammed bracket, which created enough jiggling and rattling to allow the antenna to fully deploy.

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ESA Can’t Deploy JUICE’s Radar Antenna. It Needs It to Scan Under the Ice at Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede

The Radar for Icy Moons Exploration antenna onboard JUICE after it left Earth. It's still stuck and not yet fully deployed. Courtesy ESA.
The Radar for Icy Moons Exploration antenna onboard JUICE after it left Earth. It's still stuck and not yet fully deployed. Courtesy ESA.

In a scene eerily reminiscent of the Galileo spacecraft’s antenna issues, ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is having a problem with an antenna. The 16-meter-long radar Radar for Icy Moons Exploration (RIME) unit is stuck on a tiny pin that’s keeping it from deploying fully.

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ESA's Juice is On Its Way to Visit Jupiter's Moons

ESA’s Juice mission lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on April 14, 2023 to begin its eight-year journey to Jupiter, where it will study in detail the gas giant planet’s three large ocean-bearing moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja

A new era of exploration at Jupiter’s moons began last week with the launch of the European Space Agency’s Juice, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. This mission will visit three of Jupiter’s largest moons — Europa, Callisto and Ganymede — to investigate whether they could be potentially habitable, a question that’s been highly debated since the first evidence of subsurface oceans on these moons was seen by the Galileo mission in the 1990s.

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