Nasa gears up to show us Jupiter as never seen before

Jupiter and its three largest moons photographed by Juno's cameras from 4 million kilometres away. Soon the Juno spaceship will send back never-seen-before close-up views of the planet. Photo / Nasa
Jupiter and its three largest moons photographed by Juno's cameras from 4 million kilometres away. Soon the Juno spaceship will send back never-seen-before close-up views of the planet. Photo / Nasa

Nasa's Juno mission has survived it's first period in Jupiter's extreme radiation environment and switched on its visible-light camera, ready to take on its exploration of the largest planet in our solar system.

Nasa compiled this image from the first photographs sent back by the spacecraft, showing three of Jupiter's largest moons, Io, Europa and Ganymede, after firing its main engine last week to place itself in an orbit circling 4 million kilometres around the gas giant, which is two and a half times the size of all the planets in our Solar System put together, but still with a mass only one-thousandth that of our Sun.

Even at that distance, Jupiter's Great Red Spot - a centuries-old atmospheric storm - is visible.

Here is a full video of Jupiter and the Galilean moons during Juno's approach to Jupiter.

Juno's journey to Jupiter took five years. It launched aboard an Atlas V-551 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 5, 2011.

The spacecraft will orbit Jupiter 37 times, skimming to within 5,000 kilometers above the planet's cloud tops, for approximately one year.

The rotating solar-powered spacecraft is in a highly elliptical polar orbit that avoids most of Jupiter's high-radiation regions which could damage its instruments.

Scott Bolton, Nasa's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said JunoCam's above image indicates "it survived its first pass through Jupiter's extreme radiation environment without any degradation" and is ready to take on Jupiter.

"We can't wait to see the first view of Jupiter's poles," Bolton said.

An artist's rendering shows Juno above the north pole of Jupiter.  Image / Nasa
An artist's rendering shows Juno above the north pole of Jupiter. Image / Nasa

However, the first high-resolution images of the giant planet itself are still a few weeks away.

Candy Hansen, from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, said the JunoCam "will continue to take images as we go around in this first orbit", with its first high-resolution images be taken on August 27 "when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter".


JunoCam is a visible-light colour camera designed to capture remarkable pictures of Jupiter's poles and cloud tops. As Juno's eyes, it will provide a wide view, helping to provide context for the spacecraft's other instruments.

The camera was included on the spacecraft specifically for purposes of public engagement, and although its images will be helpful to the science team, it is not considered one of the mission's primary science instruments.

Juno's main scientific instruments. Image / Nasa
Juno's main scientific instruments. Image / Nasa

The Juno team is currently working to place all images taken by JunoCam on the mission's website, where the public can access them.

During its mission of exploration, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

- NZ Herald

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