Galileo Swan Song

Or maybe not quite yet. The little Jupiter probe that could has visited Io for the last time, and will now begin a final orbit that will first take it past Jupiter’s innermost moon Amalthea and then plunge the orbiter into the swirling hazes of the giant planet’s upper atmosphere, where presumably it will be destroyed in even quicker fashion than the little atmospheric probe Galileo dropped into Jupiter’s clouds in 1995.

With the decision to crash the probe into Jupiter to avoid any possibility it might, someday, drifting helplessly in a random Jovian orbit, crash into Europa, the NASA mission planners seem as if they have seen Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010 one too many times. (The justification is all the current theorizing that Europa might, just might, have life in some sub-surface water ocean, life which we wouldn’t want to contaminate with any nasty Earth bacterial spores or viruses that might have survived years of clinging to some internal part of Galileo. Well, maybe it justifies being that careful about an accidental impact.)

I just hope — hell, I assume — they’ll have the camera going and the antenna broadcasting as the thing noses into the cloud decks. It’ll make the soft-landing of the NEAR probe on the asteroid Eros look tame.

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