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This overview of NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter shows the heliocentric flight path of the spacecraft from Earth launch in October 1989 to Jupiter arrival in December 1995 and continuing through its many orbits as the first artificial satellite of the largest planet in the solar system. The small images on the left half of the picture mark special events in the spacecraft's mission. The pictures on the right show sample images of Galileo's primary imaging camera targets: Jupiter, the four small inner satellites, the Jovian rings, and the four large "Galilean" satellites (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto).
Launched from the Space Shuttle Atlantis, Galileo embarked on a long but productive cruise to Jupiter. The spacecraft flew by Venus once and Earth twice as it built up energy to reach Jupiter. Two passes through the asteroid belt provided the first close looks at asteroids Gaspra and Ida as well as the first image of an asteroid's moon, Ida's moon, Dactyl. As the spacecraft neared its destination, comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. While the impacts occured on the night side of Jupiter, away from the direct view Earth-based observers, Galileo was positioned where the spacecraft's instruments could see the impact flashes as they rose above Jupiter's limb. Six months before arrival at Jupiter, the spacecraft separated into two parts: a probe and an orbiter. The probe entered Jupiter's atmosphere and relayed data on the properties of its upper atmosphere to the orbiter. The orbiter flew closely by Io to slowdown and enter into orbit about Jupiter.
The Galileo spacecraft orbited Jupiter eleven times during its nominal mission from June 1996 to December 1997. Close targeted flybys of Ganymede (4x), Europa (3x), and Callisto (3x), as well as more distant "untargeted" passes of all four Galilean satellites and Jupiter itself provided a large amount of new data and insights into the Jovian system. After the extreme success, the mission was extended for two more years known as the "Galileo Europa Mission" (GEM). Europa was the primary focus during the first year of the GEM, while two close Io flybys are planned for the end of GEM. The dangerous radiation environment close to Jupiter, where Io orbits, cautioned against close Io flybys during the earlier phases of the mission.
The primary imaging camera targets are shown on the right. Observations of Jupiter focussed on understanding weather phenomena and aurora. The small inner satellites, Adrastea, Metis, Amalthea, and Thebe, have been found to be the cause of the shape, appearance, and even the existence of the faint Jovian ring system. Io observations monitored volcanic plumes, revealed very hot volcanic vents, and documented dramatic, large-scale surface features which changed on scales as short as months. Europa images of a geologically diverse world hint that an ocean may currently or may have once existed beneath the icy surface. For Ganymede, good quality high resolution imaging by Galileo showed that tectonic forces formed the main geologic features. Callisto offered an interesting surprise. Formerly thought to be densely cratered at all scales, it was found that small craters are rare and the surface is covered by a planet-wide layer of dark material.
If the Galileo spacecraft survives the tortuous radiation environment near Io, a proposed extension of the mission may involve further flybys of these intriguing worlds and culminate in a joint investigation of Jupiter and its environment by Galileo and the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini, will fly by Jupiter from a distance on December 30, 2000 on its way to the ringed planet, Saturn.
North is to the top of the individual pictures. The Venus image was obtained by the Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) on NASA's Galileo spacecraft. All other images were taken by the Galileo Solid State Imaging (SSI) system. Artist's drawings are courtesy of several sources including: Tilmann Denk (Berlin, Germany), Ken Hodges (Los Alamitos, CA), Boris Rabin, and the Galileo and Cassini projects.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA manages the Galileo mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC.
This image and other images and data received from Galileo are posted on the World Wide Web, on the Galileo mission home page at URL http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo. Background information and educational context for the images can be found at URL http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo/sepo
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Galileo Solid State Imaging Team Leader: Dr. Michael J. S. Belton
The SSI Education and Public Outreach webpages were originally created and managed by Matthew Fishburn and Elizabeth Alvarez with significant assistance from Kelly Bender, Ross Beyer, Detrick Branston, Stephanie Lyons, Eileen Ryan, and Nalin Samarasinha.
Last updated: September 17, 1999, by Matthew Fishburn
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Website Curator: Leslie Lowes
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