July 7, 2022

Jupiter’s largest moon wrestles for attention with its Big Red Spot

On its 40th pass over Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft caught a unique and magnificent sight: the shadow of Jupiter’s most mammoth moon, Ganymede, lurking over the marblesque planet. 

At the moment of capture, the spacecraft, which entered orbit around Jupiter in July 2016, was hovering about 44,000 miles above the Gas Giant’s clouds, according to a NASA press release. In comparison, Ganymede circles Jupiter from about 666,000 miles away.

According to the NASA blog, viewing Ganymede from the top of these clouds wouldn’t be too different from a total solar eclipse—which are far more common on Jupiter than on Earth. The planet has four major moons, for starters, that orbit on an incline similar to the giant planet, casting dramatic shadows over its stormy surface.

[Related: Jupiter’s largest moon sounds like a friendly robot.]

This also probably won’t be the last time you’ll hear about Ganymede in the near future. A new European Space Agency (ESA) Icy Moons Explorer named JUICE will set off on an eight-year journey next April to study Jupiter and some of its most famous satellites, including Callisto, Europa, and of course, Ganymede. The spacecraft will further examine the biggest moon’s internal ocean as “not only a planetary object, but also a possible habitat,” according to an ESApress release from March. 

The image above was created by citizen scientist Thomas Thomopoulos by enhancing the color of a raw capture from JunoCam in February. Visuals and other data from the JunoCam are available online for anyone to download and get creative with.

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