Title: Juno Spacecraft Discovers Organic Compounds and Mineral Salts on Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede
In a groundbreaking exploration, the Juno spacecraft recently made a close flyby of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede and unveiled a remarkable discovery. Data collected by the Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) spectrometer aboard Juno has provided compelling evidence of the presence of mineral salts and organic compounds on the surface of Ganymede.
These findings, which have been published in the renowned journal Nature Astronomy, have the potential to significantly enhance our understanding of the moon’s origin and the composition of its deep ocean. Ganymede, being the largest moon of Jupiter, harbors an extensive internal ocean hidden beneath its icy crust.
While NASA’s Galileo spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope had previously hinted at the existence of salts and organics on Ganymede, Juno’s JIRAM instrument has allowed for a more detailed analysis. By capturing infrared images and spectra of the moon’s surface, JIRAM revealed unique spectral features of non-water-ice materials such as hydrated sodium chloride, ammonium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and potentially aliphatic aldehydes.
These intriguing findings shed light on the moon’s formation process. The presence of ammoniated salts suggests that Ganymede may have accumulated materials cold enough to condense ammonia during its early stages. Additionally, the carbonate salts may be remnants of carbon dioxide-rich ices.
What is particularly fascinating about Ganymede is that its equatorial region, extending up to a latitude of approximately 40 degrees, remains shielded from the detrimental effects of Jupiter’s magnetic field. This protective shield allows for the preservation of salts and organics in this particular area.
The abundance of salts and organics was discovered in both the dark and bright terrains located within these protected latitudes. This points to the remnants of a deep ocean brine that has reached the moon’s surface, further solidifying the possibility of life-sustaining conditions on Ganymede.
The Juno mission, part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, is managed by the esteemed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper was funded by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Lockheed Martin Space, based in Denver, played a critical role in building and operating the Juno spacecraft.
In addition to Ganymede, Juno has also conducted observations of Jupiter’s moon Europa, with future plans to examine Io during a close flyby on December 30, 2023. With each new discovery, our understanding of the solar system continues to evolve, opening doors to countless possibilities for future exploration.