Washington: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has sent the first-ever image of the gas giant Jupiter and three of its four moons to the Earth as it continues orbiting the planet.
The image was taken on July 10 when the spacecraft was 4.3 million km from Jupiter on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit.
The colour image shows atmospheric features on Jupiter, including the famous Great Red Spot, and three of the massive planet’s four largest moons — Io, Europa and Ganymede, from left to right in the image.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The JunoCam camera aboard NASA’s Juno mission is operational and sending down data after the spacecraft’s arrival at Jupiter July 4.
Juno’s visible-light camera was turned on six days after it fired its main engine and placed itself into orbit around the largest planetary inhabitant of our solar system.
However, the first high-resolution images of the gas giant are still a few weeks away.
“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 August 27 when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter.
During its mission of exploration, Juno will circle the Jovian world 37 times, soaring low over the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 4,100 km.
During these flybys, 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.