Jupiter's densely cratered moon Ganymede is the largest satellite in the Solar System and is believed to be composed mostly of rock and ice. Its small iron core generates a magnetic field about 1% as strong as the Earth's.
Photo: Ganymede taken by the Galileo probe (Galileo Project, JPL, NASA)
The Solar System's largest moon orbits Jupiter.
Jupiter's moons aren't the cold, dead worlds the experts expected.
Voyager scientists thought Jupiter's moons would be cold, dead worlds. They were amazed when the first close-up images from the spacecraft revealed four moons, each different from the next. The probes were launched in 1977.
Sir Patrick Moore is amazed by the detail of Voyager 1's images.
Early in Voyager 1's mission, Sir Patrick Moore and his guest Dr Garry Hunt of University College London discussed some of the probe's findings, which included a ring around Jupiter and images of Jupiter's moons Amalthea, Callisto, Io, Europa and Ganymede. Since Sir Patrick and Dr Hunt spoke, Jupiter has been found to have three faint rings.
Ganymede /ˈɡænɨmiːd/ (Jupiter III) is a satellite of Jupiter and the largest moon in the Solar System. It is the seventh moon and third Galilean satellite outward from Jupiter. Completing an orbit in roughly seven days, Ganymede participates in a 1:2:4 orbital resonance with the moons Europa and Io, respectively. It has a diameter of 5,268 km (3,273 mi), 8% larger than that of the planet Mercury, but has only 45% of the latter's mass. Its diameter is 2% larger than that of Saturn's Titan, the second largest moon. It also has the highest mass of all planetary satellites, with 2.02 times the mass of the Earth's moon.
Ganymede is composed of approximately equal amounts of silicate rock and water ice. It is a fully differentiated body with an iron-rich, liquid core. A saltwater ocean is believed to exist nearly 200 km below Ganymede's surface, sandwiched between layers of ice. Its surface is composed of two main types of terrain. Dark regions, saturated with impact craters and dated to four billion years ago, cover about a third of the satellite. Lighter regions, crosscut by extensive grooves and ridges and only slightly less ancient, cover the remainder. The cause of the light terrain's disrupted geology is not fully known, but was likely the result of tectonic activity brought about by tidal heating.
Ganymede is the only satellite in the Solar System known to possess a magnetosphere, likely created through convection within the liquid iron core. The meager magnetosphere is buried within Jupiter's much larger magnetic field and would show only as a local perturbation of the field lines. The satellite has a thin oxygen atmosphere that includes O, O2, and possibly O3 (ozone).Atomic hydrogen is a minor atmospheric constituent. Whether the satellite has an ionosphere associated with its atmosphere is unresolved.
Ganymede's discovery is credited to Galileo Galilei, who was the first to observe it on January 7, 1610. The satellite's name was soon suggested by astronomer Simon Marius, for the mythological Ganymede, cupbearer of the Greek gods and Zeus's lover. Beginning with Pioneer 10, spacecraft have been able to examine Ganymede closely. The Voyager probes refined measurements of its size, while the Galileo craft discovered its underground ocean and magnetic field. The next planned mission to the Jovian system is the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), due to launch in 2022. After flybys of all three icy Galilean moons the probe is planned to enter orbit around Ganymede.