Planets

Juno Sends Back First Orbital Photo of Jupiter

After slinging itself into orbit around the gas giant, Juno sends a picture home.

Image relayed by NASA's Juno spacecraft on July 10. Three of Jupiter's moons, Io, the innermost moon, Europa, upper right, and Ganymede, lower right, are visible. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Having survived being slingshot around Jupiter, NASA's Juno spacecraft turned its camera back on this week and snapped a picture of its new home.

The space probe ended a five-year flight to the biggest planet in the solar system on July 4 with a do-or-die breaking maneuver so it could shed speed and fall into Jupiter's gravity well.

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Juno will take a couple of months to re-position itself for 37 looping orbits around the planet's poles, coming at closest approach to about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops.

To avoid as much radiation as possible, Juno will buzz Jupiter only once every 14 days. Even though its instruments are inside a titanium vault, Juno is expected to be nearly electronically fried after 20 months.

Juno's orbit was designed to maximize the odds of a successful science mission, the primary goal of which is to measure how much water Jupiter contains. That information will serve as a yardstick for calculating how far from the sun the biggest planet formed, setting the stage for everything else in the solar system, including Earth and its fortuitous position conductive to the evolution of life.

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This week, NASA got its first picture from Juno since its camera was turned back on following the probe's July 4 plunge through Jupiter's radioactive welcome mat.

The image was taken 9:30 a.m. EDT on Sunday when Juno was 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) from Jupiter on the outbound leg of the first of two planned 53.5-day capture orbits, NASA said.

The image, released on Tuesday, shows Jupiter's famed Great Red Spot, a gigantic atmospheric storm that astronomers on Earth have been watching for four centuries.

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Juno is designed to collect radio signals beaming out from beneath the churning clouds, information that scientists can use to figure how the anti-cyclonic storm managed to get three times bigger than Earth and why it is so long-lived.

"This scene from JunoCam indicates it survived its first pass through Jupiter's extreme radiation environment without any degradation," lead scientist Scott Bolton, with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a press release.

The first high-resolution images of the planet will be taken on Aug. 27 when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter, added mission scientist Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

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