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Wednesday, June 9, 1999 Published at 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK


Dust cloud surrounds Jupiter's moon

An artist's impression of Galileo orbiting Jupiter

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

A cloud of dust grains has been discovered around Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon.

Astronomers made the measurements using the Heidelberg dust detector on board the Galileo spacecraft which has been in orbit around Jupiter since December 1995.

The dust cloud is believed to have formed when high velocity meteoroids from space struck the surface of Ganymede knocking off tiny grains.

Some of the dust stays in the moon's vicinity and some migrate to add to the ring around Jupiter.

Dusty debris

Scientists hope that the new research will lead to a better understanding of the processes that form the ring systems which surround all the giant planets in our solar system.

[ image: Ganymede: meteroroid bombardment threw up dust]
Ganymede: meteroroid bombardment threw up dust
According to Dr Harald Kruger, who led the published in the journal Nature, "We have detected similar dust clouds around two other Jupiter moons, Callisto and Europa, suggesting that they too are significant sources of dust debris."

The dust was detected when the Galileo spacecraft flew within a few hundred kilometres of Ganymede. The highly sensitive Dust Detection System onboard Galileo measured the dust as it impacted on a gold target.

There is one grain in every 20 metres cubed, which is interesting scientifically but no danger to the Galileo spacecraft.

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