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Emily LakdawallaApril 2, 2018

Moon Monday: Galileo's Galileans

Happy Moon Monday! This week I am hosting the rotationally curated @astrotweeps account on Twitter, and I'm talking a lot about space imaging and sharing it with the public. I'm featuring our terrific image library, and especially our library of amateur-processed space images. And I'm talking about how it was Galileo's (the spacecraft, not the scientist) images of the Galilean moons that were instrumental in nudging me toward planetary science, so it seems fitting to feature a portrait of the Galilean moons by Galileo.

The Galilean satellites, from Galileo

NASA / JPL / Ted Stryk

The Galilean satellites, from Galileo
The four great satellites of Jupiter, shown here at the same size in four color observations from the Galileo orbiter. They are shown in order from outermost to innermost. The Callisto portrait was taken during Galileo's 31st orbit (I31), on August 5, 2001. Ganymede is from the C9 flyby on June 26, 1997. Europa is from E14 on March 29, 1998. Io is from C9 on June 28, 1997.

Jupiter has four of the seven largest moons in the solar system, and each one is utterly unique. (The other three great moons are Titan, Triton, and our own Moon.) If they were planets, we'd send individual space missions to them (well, maybe not poor Callisto). But because they exist in Jupiter's shadow -- not to mention Jupiter's magnetic field -- they haven't yet received that honor. That'll change in a couple of decades, when NASA's Europa Clipper and ESA's JUICE arrive to study Europa and Ganymede, respectively.

I was a middle school science teacher in 1997 when I first saw the images of Io and Ganymede from Galileo's 9th Jupiter orbit. I was a geologist by training, and I saw in these moons a festival of cross-cutting relations, a playground for a curious person interested in telling the story of these worlds' geologic histories. I never got to work on the Galilean moons as a scientist, but my officemates did, and I got to work on pictures I'd never even seen, taken by a spacecraft named Magellan at Venus.

These portraits of half-phase Galilean moons are all from Galileo, taken on different orbits and were processed by Ted Stryk. Note how he selected images taken at nearly the same phase to make them sit together in a unified composition. He has sized them all to the same diameter to emphasize the "world"-ness of each of these satellites. He could also have chosen to represent them at their correct relative sizes, which would have presented them as a family of moons. It's a subjective choice, part of the fun of being an image processing artist.

Read more: Jupiter's moons, Io, pretty pictures, Europa, data art (was amateur image processing), Ganymede, Callisto

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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