The Galilean moons are the four largest moons of Jupiter—Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. They were first seen by Galileo Galilei in January 7, 1610, and recognized by him as satellites of Jupiter in March 1610.
They are the first objects found to orbit another planet. Their names derive from the lovers of Zeus. They are among the largest objects in the Solar System with the exception of the Sun and the eight planets, with a radius larger than any of the dwarf planets. Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, and is even bigger than the planet Mercury. The three inner moons—Io, Europa, and Ganymede—are in a 4:2:1 orbital resonance with each other. Because of their much smaller size, and therefore weaker self-gravitation, all of Jupiter’s remaining moons have irregular forms rather than a spherical shape.
The Galilean moons were discovered in either 1609 or 1610 when Galileo made improvements to his telescope, which enabled him to observe celestial bodies more distinctly than ever. Galileo’s discovery showed the importance of the telescope as a tool for astronomers by proving that there were objects in space that cannot be seen by the naked eye. More importantly, the incontrovertible discovery of celestial bodies orbiting something other than Earth dealt a serious blow to the then-accepted Ptolemaic world system, or the geocentric theory in which everything orbits around Earth.
Galileo initially named his discovery the Cosmica Sidera (“Cosimo’s stars”), but the names that eventually prevailed were chosen by Simon Marius. Marius discovered the moons independently at the same time as Galileo, and gave them their present names, which were suggested by Johannes Kepler, in his Mundus Jovialis, published in 1614.