Remembering Galileo

By Keir Liddle

On this date in 2003 the mission of the unmanned Galileo space probe came to an end.

Named after the Renaissance astronomer Galileo Galilei it launched on the October 18, 1989 from the Space Shuttle Atlantis. It’s mission was to explore Jupiter and the Jovian moons and discover what Jupiters rings were made of.

Galileo measured the atmospheric composition of Jupiter and from it we learnt that an outflow from the lower depths of Jupiters atmosphere created ammonia clouds  and we also learnt that Jupiters faint ring system was caused by dust from impacts with it’s four small inner moons. Of the Jovian moons Galileo observed the volcanic activity on Io and linked interactions between Io’s and Jupiters atmosphers. The probe also conducted studies that gave support for the popular theory of liquid oceans under the icy surface of Europa. Icy water that gives many the hope of one day housing extra terrestrial live. Similar liquid-saltwater layers under the surfaces of Ganymede and Callisto were indicated.

Galileo also provided the only direct observation of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision with Jupiters atmosphere in 1994 before, less than a decade later, it’s own impact with one of our solar systems giants.

On September 21, 2003, after 14 years in space and 8 years of service in the Jovian System, Galileo’s mission was terminated by sending the orbiter into Jupiter’s atmosphere at a speed of nearly 50 kilometres per second. This was to avoid any potential contamination of the Jovian moons with Earthly bacteria which could have impacted on potential extraterrestrial ecosystems.

It took nine months for Galileos final plunge into Jupiter to end it’s 14 year space flight – but the science gathered by the probe remains.

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