Earth-observing satellite captures rare photos of Jupiter and its moons

This image of Jupiter and its four main moons was taken by the Earth-observing satellite Pleiades Neo.
Pleaides Neo images Earth in great detail, but it can also take beautiful images of planets in the solar system. (Image credit: Airbus)

A new beautiful image of Jupiter and its largest moon Ganymede demonstrates the imaging power of one of Europe's flagship satellites. This photo wasn't taken by an astronomical satellite or an Earth-based telescope, however, but by a European spacecraft built to observe planet Earth in detail. 

European aerospace giant Airbus released the image on Twitter on Tuesday (April 11) , together with another photo that captures all four of Jupiter's main four moons and a video sequence showing the moons' motions around the gas giant planet.

"Look how the icy moons are dancing around Jupiter," Airbus said in the tweet. "Hard to believe, but these pictures were taken by our #PléiadesNeo satellite."

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The European Earth-observing satellite Pleiades Neo captured this sequence showing the solar system's largest planet Jupiter and all four of its main moons.

Pleiades Neo was built to observe Earth but it can also take beautiful visuals of other planets in the solar system. (Image credit: Airbus)

The release of the images came two days before the planned launch of Europe's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), a flagship scientific mission that will study Jupiter and its moons up close. Airbus, which built and operates the Pleiades Neo satellite that took these images, is also the main contractor behind the JUICE mission.

Jupiter and its largest moon Ganymede photographed by Europe's Earth-observing spacecraft Pleiades Neo.

Jupiter and its largest moon Ganymede photographed by the Earth-observing satellite Pleiades Neo. (Image credit: Airbus)

Pleiades Neo are Europe's most advanced Earth-observing satellites, capable of providing images of Earth with a 4-inch (30-centimeter) resolution. Airbus originally planned to operate a constellation of four of these spacecraft, but only two are in orbit so far. The company lost its second pair of satellites due to a launch failure of Europe's Vega C rocket in December last year. 

The JUICE mission is expected to launch on Thursday (April 13) from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 GMT). The spacecraft, which will be the first to orbit a moon other than Earth's own (Jupiter's Ganymede), will take almost eight years to reach its destination. 

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science,, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.