Galileo’s Demise: A planetary plunge, by Jove

The Galileo spacecraft ended an 8-year tour of Jupiter and its moons on Sept. 21, when it dove into the planet’s atmosphere, as scientists had planned. Minutes after the craft disintegrated, Earth received Galileo’s swan song, a radio signal suggesting that rocky debris lies along the orbit of the small Jovian moon Amalthea.

GRAND FINALE. Depiction of Galileo plowing into Jupiter near the planet’s equator. JPL/NASA

During its sojourn, Galileo overcame several obstacles, notably the failure of a main communications antenna. The craft took the first close-up portraits of Jupiter’s four largest moons: Io, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. In 1995, a Galileo probe parachuted into Jupiter. Data from several fly-bys of Europa suggested that the icy moon hides a vast ocean.

That finding ultimately dictated how Galileo would die. To make sure that the aging craft wouldn’t crash into a body that might harbor life, scientists 2 years ago put Galileo on a collision course with the planet it had explored so intimately.


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