How Many Moons Does Jupiter Have?
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun, and has the most moons out of all the planets in our solar system. Some of the planets (Mercury and Venus) have no moons, while Jupiter has a whopping 63! These are just the known moons – so there’s always a chance that more will be discovered!
The four largest of Jupiter’s moons are known as the Galilean moons: Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, and Io. They were discovered by Galileo Galilei, an Italian astronomer, in 1610.
Io is the closest moon to Jupiter, and is covered in many volcanoes. The strong volcanism of Io is caused by the gravitational pull of the other Galilean moons pulling on Io and constantly distorting Io’s shape. This causes heating to occur inside Io’s core, which results in the volcanoes erupting violently and frequently. Io is named after a figure in Greek mythology: a priestess of Hera, one of Zeus’ wives.
Europa is the second-closest Galilean moon of Jupiter. This moon is the subject of a significant amount of scientific research, as many astronomers believe that there may be water on Europa. It is believed that water is a vital component for alien life, but the water that potentially lies on Europa is covered by a thick layer of ice. Europa is the smallest of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, and was named after a woman in Greek mythology who was abducted by Zeus. Europe (the continent) is also named after her! Both Io and Europa always have the same face towards Jupiter.
Ganymede is not only the largest of Jupiter’s moons, but it is also the largest moon in the solar system. It’s even bigger than Mercury! Ganymede is covered in dark regions with large numbers of craters, and lighter regions with unusual grooves. These grooves are still being investigated by NASA today. Ganymede gets its name from a Greek mythological hero, thought to be one of the most beautiful mortals. In one myth, he is abducted by Zeus in the form of an eagle, to serve as a cup-bearer in the home of the Greek gods.
Callisto is the furthest away of the Galilean moons, and is named after a female nature god in Greek mythology. In the myth, Callisto angered Zeus’ wife, Hera, and was transformed into a bear and set among the stars as punishment, as the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Callisto is the second-largest of Jupiter’s moons, and has an old-looking surface marked with many impact craters. Callisto also has no volcanoes or large mountains. Instead, Callisto’s surface is primarily comprised of ice, and is covered in cracks and marks from collisions with objects hitting it from outer space.
The unmanned Galileo spacecraft was sent to study Jupiter and its moons in 1989, by NASA. This spacecraft has collected a significant amount of information about Jupiter and the Galilean moons, including data that supports the theory of Europa having a liquid ocean underneath its icy surface. After nearly 15 years of its mission, the Galileo spacecraft was destroyed by purposefully sending it into Jupiter’s atmosphere at high speed – a very sad ending to a great scientific mission!
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