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Jupiter's big moon Ganymede casts giant shadow in stunning Juno photo by citizen scientist

Jupiter and the shadow of its moon Ganymede, in a 2022 image based on a May 2019 flyby of the Juno spacecraft.
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill)

A powerful new picture of Jupiter posted by a citizen scientist shows the planet looming large with the shadow of its biggest moon Ganymede blanketing its clouds.

The image comes from Kevin M. Gill, who posted copies on Twitter (opens in new tab) and Flickr (opens in new tab) after analyzing data from the Juno spacecraft's 20th close flyby of May 2019.

Like many other NASA missions, Juno officials regularly release raw images of what the spacecraft is examining, allowing other people to use the imagery with credit. The mission also has a dedicated imager for citizen scientist requests, called JunoCam.

Related: Juno snaps stunning photos of crescent Jupiter and Ganymede

Juno arrived at Jupiter in 2016 on a greater mission to better measure and understand the atmosphere of Jupiter, including its shrinking Great Red Spot, complex storm systems and many bands of clouds. 

The hope is the insights the mission generates can help scientists understand how large planets work more generally, including distant exoplanets that are difficult for telescopes to gain much detail about.

A backlit image of Jupiter captured by Juno. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Kevin M. Gill © CC BY­­)

NASA suggests that during this 20th flyby, the spacecraft got at least as close (opens in new tab) as 9,200 miles (14,800 kilometers) above the cloud tops of the giant planet. Juno can only perform such maneuvers briefly due to the intense radiation at Jupiter.

The spacecraft has so far outlasted the radiation in both its primary mission and its first extended mission. Juno is now working on its second extended mission to peer far into Jupiter's clouds, using a polar-orbiting view that no previous spacecraft was able to use.

Coincidentally, NASA released images of both Jupiter and Ganymede last month from Juno, with Gill being involved in creating the Jupiter image. The rugged Ganymede surface was visible during a June 2021 pass when Juno flew only 650 miles (1,046 kilometers) above Ganymede's surface. Officials also released Gill's backlit view of Jupiter, based on data Juno took during Juno's 39th close pass of Jupiter on Jan. 12. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, 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. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, 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.