NASA’s Juno probe entered Jupiter’s orbit last week with a dangerous high speed braking maneuver and engineers at the space agency have just received the first pictures of the gas giant from the spacecraft’s JunoCam.
The picture doesn’t look like much, but it’s a sign the Juno spacecraft’s visible light color camera survived the voyage, dangerous braking maneuver, and Jupiter’s powerful radiation, according to NASA’s Scott Bolton.
“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. We can’t wait to see the first view of Jupiter’s poles.”
The JunoCam image shows atmospheric features of Jupiter, the planet’s famous Great Red Spot and three of the gas giant’s four largest moons: Io, Europa, and Ganymede.
NASA plans to take better high-resolution photos of Jupiter in the coming weeks and months ahead, with the first photo planned for August 27 when Juno will make its next close pass over the gas giant.
To evade the dangerous spacecraft-killing radiation belts produced by Jupiter, the Juno probe has been put in a highly eccentric elliptical orbit around the gas giant that takes 53 days to complete, according to NASA.
“JunoCam will continue to take images as we go around in this first orbit.”
After its first pass over the gas giant, Juno will ignite its thrusters once more and accelerate into a 14-day orbit to gather important data and take pictures faster.
The Juno spacecraft spent the last five years traveling almost 2 million miles at 215-times the speed of sound to arrive in orbit over Jupiter on July 4. The probe is so far away from Earth that it takes 45 minutes for signals from NASA to reach the spacecraft, and another 45 minutes for it to answer.
The robotic craft is carrying a crew of sorts; three 1.5-inch tall aluminum Lego figures representing the 17th-century Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, the Roman god Jupiter, and the deity’s wife, Juno, are onboard the Jupiter probe.
They’re on a suicide mission, however, as the tiny figures will still be onboard the spacecraft when it plummets into Jupiter’s dense atmosphere on February 20, 2018, at the end of its year-and-a-half mission.
In a joke 400 years in the making, NASA named their Jupiter probe after the Roman god’s wife when they sent her to check on her husband who has been cavorting with his extra-marital lovers: the planet’s moons named after the god’s many consorts. At the end of the mission, the probe will crash into Jupiter proving not all family reunions are happy ones.
NASA scientists hope the Jupiter probe will help answer important questions about the formation of the solar system and the early history of planet Earth. Specifically, they’re looking to discover whether the gas giant has a solid core, what the Great Red Spot is composed of, and how the planet generates such extreme levels of radiation.
To answer these questions, the Juno probe has been equipped with nine specific instruments researcher’s back at NASA can use to measure the planet’s gravity, magnetic fields, and radiation belts.
Using NASA’s “Eyes on the Solar System” software, you can track the location of the Juno space probe as it completes its 37 orbits around the gas giant; simply download the space agency’s “Eyes on Juno” app and start exploring.
The interactive simulation allows users to ride in Juno’s cockpit in real time as the space probe races around the gas giant.
NASA engineers are busy downloading more pictures of Jupiter taken from the Juno space probe and uploading them to the space agency’s website.
[Photo Illustration by Lynette Cook/NASA/Getty Images]