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NASA's Galileo spacecraft continues to deliver surprises with the discovery that Jupiter's potato-shaped inner moon, named Amalthea, appears to have a very low density, indicating it is full of holes. "The density is unexpectedly low," said Dr. John D. Anderson, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Amalthea is apparently a loosely packed pile of rubble." The empty gaps between solid chunks likely take up more of the moon's total volume than the solid pieces, and even the chunks are probably material that is not dense enough to fit some theories about the origin of Jupiter's moons. "Amalthea now seems more likely to be mostly rock with maybe a little ice, rather than a denser mix of rock and iron," said JPL's Dr. Torrence Johnson, project scientist for Galileo.
Before starting its 35th and final orbit around Jupiter next week, NASA's Galileo spacecraft will visit three intriguing features of the giant planet's neighborhood for the first time: a small moon named Amalthea, a dusty ring and the inner region of Jupiter's high-energy magnetic environment.