Ganymede, the largest moon of Jupiter, is the subject of the first geological map ever made of its surface.

This natural satellite is the largest moon in the solar system. Astronomers believe Ganymede may harbor a vast underground ocean and could probably host alien life.

Researchers hope the new study will assist future exploration efforts, aimed at mapping the giant moon.

The map was created from images collected from both the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft. The image was published by the U.S. Geological Survey, and was produced through the efforts of instructors and graduate students from Brown University.

"It is very rewarding to see the results of all of our efforts here at Brown come together into this integrated global compilation that will now be used to plan the next phase of scientific exploration of the Galilean satellites," Jim Head, distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences at Brown University, said.

Dark and light features were first seen on Ganymede by the two Voyager spacecraft in 1979. When the Galileo orbiter arrived in 1995, astronomers began a closer examination of those markings. Lightly-colored areas on the surface of the alien world are believed to be ice. The surface area of Ganymede is the same size as half the land mass of the Earth.

One conclusion already drawn from this study is a finding that volcanoes of water and ice, present on other watery moons in the system, are rare on this one satellite. Scientists have been able to identify three main periods of the formation of Ganymede. When first formed, the world was repeatedly hit by asteroids. A period of volcanic activity marked the second age of the world. That activity subsided, leaving the satellite as we see it today. Geological activity still takes place on the surface in the moder era. Astronomers spotted recent markings alongside ancient features.

Ganymede was first discovered by astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610. The satellite, along with three other moons of Jupiter, were the first bodies ever recorded orbiting a world other than the Earth. This became one of the most compelling piece of evidence that our home world is not the center of the Universe.

"I'm so glad all that work has paid off in the form of this detailed global map. It is equally rewarding to see that the Brown team has now moved on to positions of leadership in the planetary exploration research community," Head said.

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