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NASA has released magnificent shots of Jupiter and Ganymede, our solar system's largest moon.

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NASA's Juno mission has flown closer to Jupiter and its largest moon, Ganymede, than any other spacecraft in more than two decades — and the photographs of the gas giant and its icy orbit have returned are breathtaking.

 

On June 7, Juno approached Ganymede before performing its 34th flyby of Jupiter the next day, moving from pole to pole in under three hours.


NASA released an animated series of photographs collected by the JunoCam imager on Thursday, presenting a "starship captain" point of view of each pass. 


They are the first close-up photos of the solar system's largest moon since the Galileo satellite sailed in 2000.


The three-and-a-half-minute time-lapse animation takes space aficionados within 645 miles of Ganymede at 41,600 miles per hour. 


The photos depict the moon's lighter and darker zones, which are thought to be the consequence of ice sublimating, or moving from a solid to a gas form.


The crater Tros, one of the moon's largest and brightest crater scars, is also visible.


The animation then goes to Jupiter, a 735,000-mile voyage that takes Juno 14 hours and 50 minutes from Ganymede. 


Viewers are pulled within 2,100 miles of Jupiter's iconic clouds as the probe is accelerated to over 130,000 miles per hour by the planet's tremendous gravity.


The cyclones in the gas giant's north pole, as well as five "string of pearls" - massive storms spinning across the southern hemisphere, visible as white ovals — are visible from that vantage point. 


"The animation demonstrates just how lovely deep space travel can be," said Scott Bolton, Juno's chief investigator, in a statement. 


"The animation allows individuals to envision themselves seeing our solar system personally by imagining themselves orbiting Jupiter and flying past one of its cold moons. 


Today, as we get closer to the exciting prospect of people being able to visit space in orbit around Earth, our imagination is propelled decades into the future, when humans will be visiting foreign worlds in our solar system."


NASA's animation team also generated lightning that would be seen if you were standing in the middle of one of Jupiter's thunderstorms. 


Gerald Eichstädt, a citizen scientist, created the camera's point of view for the animation by combining photographs of the planet and its moon.


"This is the closest any spacecraft has been to this massive moon in a generation," said Bolton. 


"We'll take our time before drawing any scientific conclusions, but in the meantime, we can simply marvel at this celestial wonder, the only moon in our solar system larger than Mercury."


The next flyby of Jupiter, Juno's 35th, is slated for July 21.

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