On July 4, we received the exciting news that NASA’s Juno spacecraft had successfully entered orbit around Jupiter. And now, one week on, the spacecraft has returned its first image from its initial 53.5-day orbit.
This image, taken on July 10, proves that the camera has survived the pass through Jupiter’s intense radiation, meaning it can start taking stunning high-resolution shots in the next few weeks. The camera (called JunoCam) itself has no scientific purpose, but will be used to engage the public with images of the gas giant. You can even vote online for what it takes pictures of.
"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, in a statement. "The first high-resolution images of the planet will be taken on August 27 when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter."
In this image, taken from a distance of 4.3 million kilometers (2.7 million miles) from Jupiter, we see not only the planet itself, but also three of its four largest moons: Io, Europa, and Ganymede, from left to right. Its other large moon, Callisto, is not in view. On Jupiter itself, you can clearly make out the Great Red Spot, a massive storm that has raged for more than 400 years.
As for Juno, the spacecraft is preparing to begin its scientific mission in October with its suite of instruments on board. The spacecraft, which runs solely on solar power (the furthest spacecraft from Earth to do so), will make 37 flybys of Jupiter up until February 2018, as close as 4,100 kilometers (2,600 miles), before the mission will be brought to an end by sending Juno crashing into Jupiter’s cloud tops.
Juno will help us answer many questions about Jupiter, including what the gas giant is made of; at the moment we aren’t sure if Jupiter has a rocky core. By analyzing the planet’s composition, Juno will also help us work out if Jupiter formed in its current position, or further out in the Solar System – which has implications for our own planet's formation, too.