NASA’s solar powered Jupiter bound Juno orbiter has captured her first image – a beautiful portrait of the Earth & Moon – since the probe blasted off from the home planet.
Juno lifted off 25 days ago at 12: 25 p.m. on August 5 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft snapped the portrait with the onboard JunoCam camera on August 26 after journeying some 6 million miles (9.66 million km) from Earth and while traveling at a velocity of 77,600 miles per hour (124,900 kilometers per hour) relative to the sun.
“The image of the Earth Moon system is a rather unique perspective that we can get only by stepping outside of our home planet,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator, in an exclusive interview with Universe Today. Bolton is from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
“On our way to Jupiter, we’ve looked back at home and managed to take this amazing image.”
“Earth looking much like any other planet or star from a distance is glorious as this somewhat average looking “star” is home to all of humanity. Our companion, the moon, so beautiful and important to us, stands out even less.”
“We appear almost average and inconspicuous, yet all of our history originates here. It makes one wonder just how many other planets or solar systems might contain life like ours,” Bolton told me.
The Juno team commanded the probe to take the image as part of the checkout phase of the vehicles instruments and subsystems.
“The JunoCam instrument turn on and check out were planned activities. The instrument is working great and in fact, all the instruments that we’ve turned on thus far have been working great,” Bolton added.
So far the spacecraft is in excellent health and the team has completed the checkout of the Waves instrument and its two Flux Gate Magnetometer sensors and deployment of its V-shaped electric dipole antenna.
“We have a couple more instruments still to do,” Bolton noted.
The team reports that Juno also performed its first precession, or reorientation maneuver, using its thrusters and that the first trajectory control maneuver (TCM-1) was cancelled as unnecessary because of the extremely accurate targeting provided by the Atlas V rocket.
The portrait shot is actually not Juno’s last photo of her home.
The 8000 pound (3,600 kilogram) probe will fly by Earth once more on October 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted speed boost of 16,330 MPH (7.3 km/sec) to accelerate Juno past the asteroid belt on its long journey to the Jovian system.
JunoCam will collect new photos and the other science instruments will make measurements as Juno cartwheels past Earth during the slingshot to Jupiter.
Juno is on a 5 year and 1.7 Billion mile (2.8 Billion km) trek to the largest planet in our solar system. When she arrives at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, Juno will become the first polar orbiting spacecraft at the gas giant.
During a one year science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles (5000 km) of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s genesis and evolution.
The goal is to find out more about the planets origins, interior structure and atmosphere, observe the aurora, map the intense magnetic field and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core.
“This is a remarkable sight people get to see all too rarely,” said Bolton in a NASA statement about the Earth-Moon photo. “This view of our planet shows how Earth looks from the outside, illustrating a special perspective of our role and place in the universe. We see a humbling yet beautiful view of ourselves.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Juno mission. The spacecraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.
Read my continuing features about Juno
Juno Blasts off on Science Trek to Discover Jupiter’s Genesis
Juno Jupiter Orbiter poised at Launch Pad for Aug. 5 Blastoff
JUNO Orbiter Mated to Mightiest Atlas rocket for Aug. 5 Blastoff to Jupiter
Solar Powered Jupiter bound JUNO lands at Kennedy Space Center