Categories: JupiterMissionsMoon

NASA Spacecraft Takes a Picture of Jupiter … From the Moon

You know the feeling …. seeing Jupiter through your own telescope. If it gives you the chills — like it does for me — then you’ll know how the team for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter felt when they turned their spacecraft around – yes, the orbiter that’s been faithfully circling and looking down at the Moon since 2008 – and saw the giant planet Jupiter with their camera. If you zoom in on the picture, you can even see Jupiter’s Galilean moons.

LROC’s look at the Apollo 11 Landing Site. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

Usually, LRO takes stunning, high-resolution images of the lunar surface, including being able to spot details of the Apollo landing sites. But recently, the LRO team used some high-powered calculations and precise timing to use its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) to scan the area of the sky where Jupiter was going to be, about 600 million km away. They hit the jackpot. While it’s not Hubble Space Telescope quality, the fact this image was taken from a spacecraft orbiting 100 km above the lunar surface is a true feat in engineering.

“We took a pic of Jupiter from the Moon last month,” said LRO team member Brett Denevi on Twitter. “It may not be the highest resolution ever, but its ours.”

Denevi explained on the LRO website that the exercise to take a picture of Jupiter was a labor of love. The team does these complicated maneuvers because they love exploring the planets and taking pictures.

“It is fun to take a look around our Solar System every once in a while from our perch in lunar orbit,” Denevi said.

Complicating matters is that because the spacecraft is over 12 years old, a few things don’t work like they used to. The Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) — which keeps tabs on where LRO is pointed — is nearing the end of its operational life. The IMU is now only used in emergencies or special situations. LRO’s team now has to use the spacecraft’s star tracker cameras to derive an estimate of its location and rotation.

LRO’s view of Jupiter, with an alternate crop and a higher contrast stretch so that Ganymede and Callisto are visible. Io and Europa can be seen appearing to protrude from the side of Jupiter; in reality, they are both just off Jupiter’s limb but they have all merged together here due to the stretch applied to the scene. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

This “adds complications to imaging anywhere but straight down at the lunar surface,” Denevi wrote, “(we don’t want the star trackers pointed at the Moon rather than the stars!). The spacecraft is also gracefully aging so the solar panels must be turned away from the Sun for as little time as possible. And then adding in other thermal and timing constraints, the operations team had to work hard to find just the right time to turn the spacecraft toward the outer Solar System and scan across Jupiter to get this image.”

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time LROC has taken a picture of Jupiter — they did another shot in 2020. And every once in a while, LRO turns its view outward to take a peek at other places in the Solar System, like Mars and even Earth.

“But just like so many people around the world who like turning their telescopes toward the sky and seeing the stars and planets firsthand, the LROC team could not resist doing the same,” Denevi said.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at and and Instagram at and

Recent Posts

SpaceX Reveals the Beefed-Up Dragon That Will De-Orbit the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) has been continuously orbiting Earth for more than 25 years…

3 hours ago

Gaia Hit by a Micrometeoroid AND Caught in a Solar Storm

For over ten years, the ESA's Gaia Observatory has monitored the proper motion, luminosity, temperature,…

1 day ago

Lunar Infrastructure Could Be Protected By Autonomously Building A Rock Wall

Lunar exploration equipment at any future lunar base is in danger from debris blasted toward…

2 days ago

Why is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Shrinking? It’s Starving.

The largest storm in the Solar System is shrinking and planetary scientists think they have…

2 days ago

ESA is Building a Mission to Visit Asteroid Apophis, Joining it for its 2029 Earth Flyby

According to the ESA's Near-Earth Objects Coordination Center (NEOCC), 35,264 known asteroids regularly cross the…

2 days ago

The Most Dangerous Part of a Space Mission is Fire

Astronauts face multiple risks during space flight, such as microgravity and radiation exposure. Microgravity can…

2 days ago