The JunoCam camera aboard NASA’s Juno mission is operational and sending down data after the spacecraft’s 4 July arrival at Jupiter. Juno’s visible-light camera was turned on six days after Juno fired its main engine and placed itself into orbit around the largest planetary inhabitant of our Solar System. The first high-resolution images of the gas giant Jupiter are still a few weeks away.
“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,” says 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.”
The new view was obtained on 10 July when the spacecraft was 4.3 million kilometres (2.7 million miles) 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.
“JunoCam will continue to take images as we go around in this first orbit,” says Candy Hansen, Juno co-investigator from the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. “The first high-resolution images of the planet will be taken on 27 August when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter.”
JunoCam is a colour, visible-light 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. JunoCam was included on the spacecraft specifically for purposes of public engagement – although its images will be helpful to the science team, it is not considered one of the mission’s science instruments.
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 kilometres (2,600 miles). During these flybys, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its aurorae to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.