Galileo: The first spacecraft to enter the orbit around Jupiter

July 03, 2018
As the name suggests, the unmanned spacecraft was named after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei and was the first to enter the orbit around Jupiter with an aim to study the planet’s satellites, atmosphere and surrounding magnetosphere in greater detail than ever attempted before.
An artist’s concept of Galileo at Lo with Jupiter in the background

Galileo changed the way we look at our solar system. Launched on October 18, 1989 from Kennedy Space Center aboard space shuttle Atlantis, Galileo’s mission extended three times to finally culminate on September 21, 2003.

It carried special science instruments to measure various parameters and collected a wealth of data about Jupiter and its moons. It also carried an atmospheric descent probe which was released on July 12, 1995 directly into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The probe measured temperature, pressure, chemical composition, cloud characteristics, sunlight and energy internal to the planet, and lightning. During its 58-minute life, the probe penetrated 124 miles (200 kilometers) into Jupiter's violent atmosphere before it was crushed, melted and/or vaporized by the intense pressure and temperature.

During its mission’s tenure, Galileo collected and relayed valuable data about the Jovian system back to Earth. Notable amongst them is the detection of a salty ocean beneath the icy cracked and frozen surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s many moons.The spacecraft was the first to fly past an asteroid, Gaspra, and the first to discover a moon of an asteroid, tiny Dactyl orbiting asteroid Ida. It provided the only direct observations of a comet colliding with a planet, when it witnessed Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact Jupiter.

After 14 years in space and 8 years in the Jovian system, Galileo's mission was terminated by sending it into Jupiter's atmosphere at a speed of over 48 kilometers per second (30 mi/s), eliminating the possibility of contaminating local moons with terrestrial bacteria.

Post Written By - Manash Hazarika

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