Juno spacecraft sends first in-orbit view of Jupiter
NASA recently released the first view of Jupiter taken by the Juno spacecraft since its July 4 arrival at the giant planet. JunoCam, the spacecraft’s visible light camera, was turned on six days after Juno executed a 35-minute engine burn to place the vehicle in orbit around Jupiter. Juno will be in a position to take high-resolution images of Jupiter in late August.
“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 from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We can’t wait to see the first view of Jupiter’s poles.”
The view of Jupiter and three of its four largest moons (Io, Europa, and Ganymede) was taken at 10:30 a.m. PDT (17:30 GMT) July 10 when Juno was 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) from the planet on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit.
“JunoCam will continue to take images as we go around in this first orbit,” said Candy Hansen, Juno co-investigator from the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. “The first high-resolution images of the planet will be taken on Aug. 27 when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter.”
JunoCam is a color, visible light camera designed to take high-resolution images of Jupiter’s poles and atmosphere during each close approach—about 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops where the camera has the best vantage point. The wide-angle camera can take pictures with a resolution of up to 16 miles (35 kilometers) per pixel.
JunoCam’s hardware is based on the Mars Descent Imager (MADRI) that was developed for NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Additionally, some of the camera’s software was originally developed for NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft.
While the images produced by JunoCam will be useful to the science team, the camera was included specifically for public engagement.
The images it takes will be made available on the Juno mission website for members of the public to process into color views. The public will also be able to vote on targets for JunoCam to image, and amateur astronomers can submit their images of Jupiter to assist in image planning.
In addition to JunoCam, the mission team has been powering up Juno’s scientific instruments, which were also turned off a few days before the July 4 Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI) maneuver. The August 27 flyby of Jupiter is expected to produce some preliminary science data.
“We had to turn all our beautiful instruments off to help ensure a successful Jupiter Orbit Insertion on July 4,” Bolton said. “But next time around we will have our eyes and ears open. You can expect us to release some information about our findings around Sept. 1.”
Juno was launched on August 5, 2011, by an Atlas V 551 variant booster from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. During its mission, the spacecraft will orbit Jupiter 37 times, soaring low above the planet’s cloud tops. Juno will use its scientific instruments to peer beneath Jupiter’s obscuring cloud layers and study its auroras to learn more about the giant planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.