The first picture in orbit that is. Juno snapped a series of pictures as it approached orbital insertion of the massive gas giant last month. NASA turned those into a breathtaking video that reminds us of a tiny solar system.
The picture seen above was taken on July 10, 2016. Juno was six days into its orbit around Jupiter, but still a staggering 4 million kilometers from the biggest planet in our solar system.
Juno’s first image also gives us some insight into the spacecraft’s health. “This scene from JunoCam indicates it survived its first pass through Jupiter’s extreme radiation environment without any degradation and is ready to take on Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator for Juno. “We can’t wait to see the first view of Jupiter’s poles.”
It’s an awesome view of Jupiter I’m not used to seeing. Every time I’ve seen the planet from my backyard, it’s full. You can easily see Jupiter’s prominent cloud bands stretching from left to right. And who can miss the infamous ‘Great Red Spot.’ Even at a distance of 4 million kilometers.
Three of Jupiter’s largest moons can also be seen – Io, Europa and Ganymede. Callisto orbits a bit further out than these three and can’t be seen in this photo. Together, they are known as the Galilean moons. The four moons Galileo Galilei discovered around January 1610 and changed humanity’s way of thinking forever. Imagine discovering Earth is not the center of everything at a time when the belief was widely held.
Today, Juno is still near the beginning of a 53.5-day trip around the gas giant. But this lengthy orbit won’t last long. On October 19th, Juno will fire its main engine one last time. A nearly 22-minute burn will change Juno’s orbit from a 53.5-day journey around Jupiter to one that takes just 14 days.
The spacecraft will stay in a highly elliptical orbit, but its close passes will be incredible. At its farthest point, Juno will be 2.7 million kilometers from Jupiter. Then, it’ll begin its dive towards the gas giant and soar just 4,000 kilometers above Jupiter’s clouds.
You thought New Horizons photos of Pluto at 12,500 kilometers away were insane? Just wait. We’ll see jaw-dropping details of Jupiter’s polar regions, cloud bands and up close shots of the Great Red Spot.
Voyager 1 flew within 206,700 kilometers of Jupiter in July 1979 and gave us these awesome pictures.
Imagine the detail we’ll get from a modern camera at a distance of just 4,000 kilometers.
We just need to wait a few more months. While we wait, head on over to Juno’s mission page to suggest where JunoCam should look. Soon, Juno’s team will open it up to voting. A quick glance shows a lot of us are fans of the Great Red Spot.
Juno’s co-investigator Candy Hansen tells us when we can expect the first really good images. “The first high-resolution images of the planet will be taken on August 27 when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter.”