(ORDO NEWS) — What is this large dark spot on the side of Jupiter? This may remind you of a certain scene in the sci-fi movie 2010: The Year We Made Contact where a growing black spot appears in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
But this is a real photo, and the dark spot is just an elongated shadow of Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon.
NASA‘s Juno spacecraft captured this view of Jupiter during its 40th close flyby of the giant planet on February 25, 2022.
The image was taken by the spacecraft’s JunoCam camera and processed by civilian scientist Thomas Thomopoulos.
As you may know, JunoCam is a community project where people around the world actively participate in scientific research.
Citizen scientists processed the stunning images taken by JunoCam, as well as created time-lapse videos, measured wind currents, tracked the circulation patterns in circumpolar cyclones and searched for lightning flashes.
Another citizen scientist/imager, Brian Swift, using data from JunoCam, created the graph below illustrating the approximate geometry of the visible region as projected onto Jupiter’s globe.
At the time this image was taken, the Juno spacecraft was about 44,000 miles (71,000 kilometers) above Jupiter’s cloud tops, at a latitude of about 55 degrees south latitude, and 15 times closer than Ganymede, which orbits at a distance of about 666,000 miles. (1.1 million kilometers) from Jupiter.
If you are lucky – or unlucky, perhaps due to conditions on Jupiter – to be an observer on Jupiter’s cloud tops within an oval shadow, you will experience a total eclipse of the Sun.
NASA claims that total eclipses occur more frequently on Jupiter than on Earth for several reasons. Jupiter has four large moons (known as the Galilean moons) that often pass between Jupiter and the Sun: Ganymede passes once in seven days, Europa twice, and Io four times.
And because Jupiter’s moons orbit in a plane close to that of Jupiter’s orbit, lunar shadows are often cast on the planet.
Jupiter’s moons and their shadows are visible even through amateur telescopes on Earth. This image was taken by renowned astrophotographer John Chumak.
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