Galileo, the NASA space probe in which UK scientists have played a key role, will dramatically end its 14-year mission when it plunges into Jupiters dense atmosphere on the 21st September. The spacecraft, which has revealed a wealth of scientific data on Jupiter and its moons, with fuel and power exhausted, will vaporize like a meteor as its descends through the giant planets turbulent atmosphere (an artists impression of what this might look like is available - please see notes to editors).
An artists impression of Galileo descending into Jupiter. Credit: David A Hardy. www.astroart.org
As well as extensive scientific data, Galileo has provided the most visually stunning images of Jupiter and its moons ever, especially Io and Europa. The probe, launched in 1989 by the Space Shuttle Atlantis, also imaged the Earth, Venus, the Moon and several asteroids during its lifetime.
The highlights of the mission include the identification of massive amounts of lightening activity in Jupiters atmosphere, where hurricane-force winds and huge amounts of heat from the interior whip clouds of frozen ammonia into bands that encircle the planet, studded with giant storms, some of them larger than the entire Earth. The planet is richer in heavy elements than the Sun, showing that it was assembled from smaller planetesimals rather than condensing in isolation as previously surmised.
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