Astronomy Picture of the Day
September 2, 2012

Features of Ganymede (Part II)
Features of Ganymede (Part II)

Credits: NASA - Voyager 1 Project; Credits fo the additional process. and color.: Dr Paolo C. Fienga/LXTT/IPF

This picture of Ganymede was taken by the NASA - Voyager 1 Spacecraft on the afternoon of March 5, 1979, from a range of about 253.000 Km (such as approx. 151.800 miles). The picture, that is centered at about 66° South Latitude and East Longitude, shows a portion of the South Western Limb Region of Ganymede. The smallest visible Surface Features are about 2,5 Km (roughly 1,5 miles) across. The Surface of this moon shows numerous ancient Impact Craters, many of which - like we have recently seen on Planet Mercury , thanks to the NASA - Messenger Spacecraft and Orbiter - have extensive Bright Ray Systems. The light Bands that we can see crossing the whole Surface of Ganymede contain alternating bright and dark lines which, probably, represent deformation of the Icy Material that form them.

Despite the NASA - Voyager 1 Spacecraft data, some evidence relevant to the existence of a tenuous Oxygen-based Atmosphere (---> a so-called "Exosphere") on Ganymede (an Exhosphere which, by the way, very similar to the one found on the other Jovian moon Europa), was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in the AD 1995. The HST actually observed an Airglow of Atomic Oxygen in the far-UltraViolet at the wavelengths of 130,4 and 135,6 nanometers. Such an Airglow is excited when Molecular Oxygen gets dissociated by way of Electron Impacts (and that phenomenon is a further evidence about the existence of a significant Neutral Atmosphere around Ganymede, which is predominantly composed of O2 molecules). The Oxygen, however, is not a direct evidence of the presence, on Ganymede, of some possible Earth-like Lifeforms; as a matter of fact, the Oxigen that we find in the Atmosphere of this huge moon, is thought to be produced the when Water Ice that is largely present on the Surface of Ganymede gets split into Hydrogen and Oxygen through the action of Radiation, with the Hydrogen being more rapidly lost in the circum-Ganymedian Space due to its low Atomic Mass.

Furthermore, the Airglow observed over Ganymede is not spatially homogeneous like the one existing over Europa. The HST also observed two bright spots located in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of Ganymede, near ± 50° of Latitude, which is exactly the Boundary Region between the Open and the Closed Field Lines of the Ganymedian Magnetosphere. These bright spots, according to our present day knowledge, could have probably been tWO Ganymedian Polar Auroras, caused by Plasma Precipitation along the Open Field Lines of its Magnetosphere.

The NASA - Voyager 1 Spacecraft Original b/w frame has been additionally processed and then colorized, according to an informed speculation carried out by Dr Paolo C. Fienga (LXTT-IPF), in Absolute Natural Colors (such as the colors that a human eye would actually perceive if someone were onboard the NASA - Voyager 1 Spacecraft and then looked outside, towards the Jovian moon Ganymede), by using an original technique created - and, in time, dramatically improved - by the Lunar Explorer Italia Team. Different colors, as well as different shades of the same color, mean, among others, the existence of different Elements present on the Surface of Ganymede, each having a different Albedo (---> Reflectivity) and Chemical Composition.

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