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Shadow of Jupiter's largest moon looms in magnificent new Juno photo

NASA's Juno spacecraft imaged Jupiter and Ganymede during the mission's 40th close pass by the giant planet on Feb. 25, 2022.
NASA's Juno spacecraft imaged Jupiter and Ganymede during the mission's 40th close pass by the giant planet on Feb. 25, 2022. (Image credit: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Thomas Thomopoulos © CC BY­­)

Giant Jupiter and the shadow of its biggest moon, Ganymede, dominate the view in this latest image from the system based on a NASA spacecraft's data.

NASA's Juno mission whizzed close by the radiation-spewing planet for the 40th time on Feb. 25, with the resulting raw images of the encounter beamed home to Earth. There, citizen scientist Thomas Thomopoulos created this stunning view based on what was seen by the JunoCam instrument.

Juno was flying roughly 44,000 miles (71,000 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops during the encounter, which is roughly 15 times closer than Ganymede's orbital distance of 666,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers), NASA stated.

Related: Juno snaps stunning photos of crescent Jupiter and Ganymede

If an observer could brave the radiation to float within the oval seen in the picture, NASA added, that person would experience a total eclipse of the sun. "Total eclipses are more common on Jupiter than Earth," the agency said, noting the planet hosts four large moons (Ganymede, Io, Europa and Callisto) that orbit closer to the plane of Jupiter than our own, singular moon.

JunoCam, the agency said, "captured this image from very close to Jupiter, making Ganymede's shadow appear especially large."

The Juno spacecraft is on a long-term mission to understand the weather and the dynamics of Jupiter, the largest planet of our solar system. Studying this planet from up close allows scientists also to get a sense of how large exoplanets may behave in other solar systems.

Juno remains in good health amid an extended mission, but will have a limited lifespan due to the amount of radiation it is facing, NASA has warned. But space scientists have big plans for the icy moons of Jupiter in the 2030s, including visits from NASA's Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.