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Jupiter and moons
This view from JunoCam shows Jupiter at far left, with the moons Io, Europa and Ganymede in orbit from left to right. Click on the image for a larger version. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS)

It’s not the closest close-up of Jupiter, but it’s the first view provided by NASA’s Juno probe since it went into orbit around the giant planet on July 4.

The image released today shows Jupiter and its Great Red Spot, as well as the moons Io, Europa and Ganymede, from a distance of 2.7 million miles. The picture was taken by Juno’s visible-light camera at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, shortly after it was turned on in the wake of orbital insertion. At the time, Juno was on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit.

“The 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,” Scott Bolton, mission principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in today’s image advisory. “We can’t wait to see the first view of Jupiter’s poles.”

JunoCam will continue to capture images as it zooms through its first orbit, but the first high-resolution pictures of Jupiter won’t be taken until Aug. 27, when Juno makes its next close encounter.

Juno’s main mission is to study Jupiter’s magnetic field as well as its internal composition and structure. Over the course of 20 months, its scientific instruments are expected to document the planet’s aurora, assess the abundance of water and other chemicals in its all-obscuring cloud cover, and determine whether or not Jupiter has a solid core.

The results could help scientists figure out in greater detail how the solar system was formed more than 4.5 billion years ago.

JunoCam is not considered one of the mission’s science instruments. Rather, the camera was added to the spacecraft’s payload for the purposes of public engagement. It’s expected to produce unprecedented closeups of Jupiter’s poles and cloud tops from as close as 2,600 miles. Eventually, the Juno mission team will be taking requests for the camera’s targets.

Jupiter has been a frequent target for NASA spacecraft, ranging from PioneerVoyager and Galileo to the Hubble Space Telescope, Cassini and New Horizons.

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