Juno snaps its first pic of Jupiter

Image indicates spacecraft healthy after navigating gas giant’s harsh environs

Jupiter and its moons

PLANET PORTRAIT  Jupiter and three of its moons (left to right: Io, Europa and Ganymede) pose for a July 10 family portrait. It’s the first snapshot taken by the Juno spacecraft since arriving at the planet on July 4.

JPL-Caltech/NASA, SWRI, MSSS

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has sent back its first picture of Jupiter since arriving at the planet July 4 (SN: 7/23/16, p. 14). The image, taken July 10 when the spacecraft was 4.3 million kilometers from Jupiter, shows off the planet’s clouds, its Great Red Spot (a storm a bit wider than Earth) and three of its moons (Io, Europa and Ganymede).

Juno is on the outbound leg of its first of two 53.5-day orbits of the gas giant (Juno will then settle into 14-day orbits). During orbit insertion, all of Juno’s scientific instruments were turned off while the spacecraft made its first dive through the harsh radiation belts that encircle the planet. This first image indicates that Juno is in good health and ready to study the largest planet in the solar system.

The probe is the ninth to visit Jupiter and the second to stay in orbit (SN: 6/25/2016, p. 32). For the next 20 months, Juno will investigate what lurks beneath the opaque clouds that enshroud the planet (SN: 6/25/2016, p. 16). The spacecraft won’t take its first intimate pictures of Jupiter until August 27, when it flies within 5,000 kilometers of the cloud tops.  

Christopher Crockett is a freelance science writer and editor based in Arlington, Va. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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